Arizona student reading scores steady since 2019; math scores down in national test

How do Arizona students compare to students around the nation? The National Assessment of Educational Progress report has the answer.
How do Arizona students compare to students around the nation? The National Assessment of Educational Progress report has the answer.

Arizona students suffered math learning loss during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, but held steady in reading, new nationwide assessment results show.

Arizona students performed at or near the national average in both subjects, according to results released Monday from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

This year, the NAEP tested fourth and eighth grade students in math and reading. The NAEP is congressionally mandated and also tests other subjects, including civics and science.

Unlike Arizona’s assessment test, which has changed several times in the past decade, the NAEP has administered essentially the same test continuously to a sample of students across the country since 1969.

This year, the NAEP was administered to about 224,000 fourth graders from roughly 6,000 schools and 222,000 eighth graders from about 5,000 schools between January and March.

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How did the pandemic impact scores?

A majority of states saw declines in reading and math scores for both fourth and eighth grade students compared to 2019, before the pandemic began.

For math in both fourth and eighth grades, Arizona saw similar declines to the nation as a whole. The national average math declines were the biggest drops ever recorded, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP.

In reading, Arizona students held steady while the national average dipped.

“Arizona still punches above its weight compared to other states given its school funding, poverty and demographics,” said Joe O’Reilly, the director of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence at Arizona State University.

The data does not show a clear connection between scores and whether there was a quick return to in-person learning, said National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner Peggy Carr.

“Remote learning looked different all across the United States,” she said.

Here's a breakdown of Arizona's scores compared to the national average:

  • 4th grade math:

    • National average score: 235, down five points since 2019

    • Arizona average score: 232, down six points since 2019

  • 8th grade math:

    • National average score: 273, down eight points since 2019

    • Arizona average score: 271, down nine points since 2019

  • 4th grade reading:

    • National average score: 216, down three points since 2019

    • Arizona average score: 215, down one point since 2019 (statistically, not a meaningful difference)

  • 8th grade reading:

    • National average score: 259, down three points since 2019

    • Arizona average score: 259, no change since 2019

“While the effects of the pandemic on student learning are well-documented, Arizona’s educators and students are resilient. And our test scores, particularly in reading, show that,” said Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. “Despite challenges during the pandemic, our families and educators worked together to accelerate student learning. ... It is encouraging to see our students close to the national average.”

This year's test results show major score disparities among student subgroups.

For example, the average fourth-grade math score for Arizona students with disabilities dropped two points this year from 2019, less than the drop for Arizona students overall. But the average score for students with disabilities was 30 points below the average score for students without disabilities.

English language learners, meanwhile, saw a drop of 10 points in fourth-grade math from 2019, and had a gap of 38 points from native English speakers.

Arizona’s Department of Education has spent millions in federal pandemic relief funds on math tutoring and to help teachers get classroom supplies. School districts have spent their aid dollars on student support as well as buying new curriculum materials and technology.

“Some schools have really doubled down on providing additional supports like counselors, social workers. Others are really focusing in on how do we help students catch up,” said Erin Hart, senior vice president of Education Forward Arizona, which advocates for school funding and monitors progress on education metrics like early childhood learning and graduation rates. “All those things are great, right? But we just have to figure out how to sustain them.”

Most schools are expected to spend their federal relief funds over the next few years, and district-run schools in Arizona are primed for funding uncertainty because a decades-old law is set to be triggered this school year. The Legislature must pass a bill to prevent district schools from having to collectively cut millions from their budgets because of an education spending limit set in the 1980s.

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Yana Kunichoff is a reporter on The Arizona Republic's K-12 education team. You can reach her at or follow her on Twitter @yanazureJoin the education conversation on The Republic's K-12 community Facebook page.​

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Nation's Report Card: How Arizona's students scored on reading, math