The Pandemic Affects Student Achievement in Tucson, Arizona MSA
The pandemic created a challenging environment for students and educators. In Arizona, AzM2 scores in 2021 were lower across the board than in 2019, as discussed in the Student Achievement indicator. How did the drop in student achievement scores in Arizona compare to other states around the western U.S.? How did your child’s school district fare? Recently reported data from the Stanford Educational Data Archive (SEDA) allows us to answer these questions.
SEDA is a national database that aligns state testing to the national assessment test. That allows for a direct comparison across all states, metros, counties, and school districts. Recently, SEDA reported the change in math and reading scores between 2019 and 2022. That allows us to track where the largest gaps occurred. Standardized test scores are one measure of a region’s ability to prepare its youth for the demands of higher education and a career. Low student achievement means that students may be ill-equipped to attend college, trade schools, or perform high-skilled labor. Low-performing schools may also indicate socioeconomic challenges in the community, such as poverty. Understanding where the largest gaps in learning occurred during the pandemic is helpful as educators address the steps necessary for our children’s education as we move beyond the challenges the pandemic created.
The average change between 2019 and 2022 in math scores for all Arizona students was a decline of 0.69 (Figure 1). That means math scores in Arizona in 2022 were more than half a grade level lower than they were prior to the pandemic. These data represent the average change between 2019 and 2022 of all math scores for 3rd-8th graders relative to the national average in grades 3rd-8th in 2019. Essentially, the change in math scores in Arizona between 2019 and 2022 was equivalent to the amount of learning that would take place in a little more than half a school year. Arizona’s change in math scores placed it seventh among western states. Utah posted the lowest loss at -0.35 (slightly less than half a grade level) and New Mexico had the largest decline in scores at -0.96 (nearly a full grade level).
Figure 1: Average Change in SEDA Math Scores from 2019 to 2022
Arizona students fared significantly better in reading with an average change of just -0.06 between 2019 and 2022. That placed Arizona with the lowest decline in reading scores among the western states (Figure 2). These data represent the average change between 2019 and 2022 of all reading scores for 3rd-8th graders relative to the national average in grades 3rd-8th in 2019. Oregon posted the largest decline in reading scores at 0.67, more than half a grade level.
Figure 2: Average Change in SEDA Reading Scores from 2019 to 2022
It is important to note that the average change data reflects how testing scores changed for a particular state or school district between 2019 and 2022 relative to the national average in 2019. A state with a positive change may still find itself lower than the national average within the annual data. However, a positive change between 2019 and 2022 could mean that the state is catching up or closing the gap with the nation.
Overall, in 2022 Utah was the only state in the western U.S. that posted math scores above the national average. Arizona’s score of -0.77 fell in the middle of western states (Figure 3). That means, on average for all students in grades 3rd-8th, math scores in Arizona were three-quarters of a year behind their national peers.
Figure 3: Average SEDA Math Scores for Grades 3-8 for 2022
Arizona also fell in the middle among western states in reading scores at -0.25. However, students in 3rd-8th grade were only a quarter of a school year behind their national peers (Figure 4). Utah and Colorado posted scores above the national average, while New Mexico had reading scores nearly 1 ½ grade levels behind the nation.
Figure 4: Average SEDA Reading Scores for Grades 3-8 for 2022
When the change in math scores is broken down by select race and ethnicities we find that scores fell across the board. However, significant variation exists. Within Arizona, the Black or African American population posted the largest change in math scores at -1.0 (Figure 5). That represents a full year of school. Similar losses occurred for the Hispanic or Latino student population in Colorado, and the white population in Oregon. Generally speaking, the white population posted the smallest declines between 2019 and 2022, with the exception of Oregon and California.
Figure 5: Average Change in Math Scores (2019 to 2022) for Grades 3-8 by Race and Ethnicity
The story was slightly different for the change in reading scores by select race and ethnicities. In Arizona, the Black or African American and the Hispanic or Latino populations had a slight improvement or no change in reading scores during the pandemic. The white student population posted a small decline. As Figure 6 illustrates, Arizona students had the smallest change in scores for reading between 2019 and 2022. Many other states, like Oregon and New Mexico, saw a decline of nearly half a grade level in reading during this time. One notable trend is that several states saw reading scores increase for Black or African American students during the pandemic, with Texas leading the way among the western states.
Figure 6: Average Change in Reading Scores (2019 to 2022) for Grades 3-8 by Race and Ethnicity
Unfortunately, metro-level data is not yet available from SEDA on the change between 2019 and 2022. Therefore, we have provided school district-level data for the districts within the Tucson region. The Tanque Verde Unified District was the sole school district to post an increase in math scores for 3rd-8th graders between 2019 and 2022 (Figure 7). The increase was meager (0.1) but outshined all other major school districts in the area. Several school districts posted substantial declines in math scores during this time. Tucson Unified and Flowing Well Unified Districts both had losses greater than half a school year, while the Sunnyside Unified District posted a change that represented more than a full school year of learning.
Figure 7: Average Change in Math Scores (2019 to 2022) for Grades 3-8 by School District
The shining spot for Arizona and several districts in the Tucson region was the change in reading scores during the pandemic. As mentioned earlier, Arizona posted the lowest change in reading scores among the western states. Multiple school districts in the Tucson region posted increases in their student’s reading scores relative to the national average during the pandemic. The Tanque Verde Unified District led the way at 0.5 or half a school year improvement (Figure 8). Only three local districts posted a negative change.
Figure 8: Average Change in Reading Scores (2019 to 2022) for Grades 3-8 by School District
The MAP will continue to update the 2022 data as additional data becomes available from the SEDA. This will include a full breakdown of the 2022 data for metros, counties, and select school districts. To learn more about testing in Arizona and nationally, visit the MAP core indicator Student Achievement, and the recent article “Benchmarking Student Achievement”.
How is it Measured
The SEDA data find the average score for each grade and subject area and indexes it to the U.S. average. A score of 0 would represent the national average, values less than 0 indicate scores below the national average, and values above 0 represent scores above the national average. For example, a -1 would be one-grade level behind, and a +1 would be one-grade level ahead. Earlier this year the SEDA data was released for 2021 for all states, metros, counties, and school districts. The MAP provided a detailed analysis of these data in the “Benchmarking Student Achievement” article.