Student Achievement

How are we doing?

NAEP Scores for 8th Grade Math (2017)

In 2017, Arizona ranked sixth, tied with Oregon, in eight-grade math scores administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This placed Arizona students just higher than the national average in eighth-grade math. In fourth-grade reading, Arizona students scored lower than the national average. Despite posting a lower than national average score in fourth-grade reading, Arizona’s scores have steadily increased since 2005 while the national average has remained mostly constant, thus reducing the achievement gap between Arizona and the nation.

Why is it important?

Standardized test scores are one measure of a region’s ability to prepare its youth for the demands of higher education and a career. Creating skilled and productive future workers can benefit the local economy, and maintaining high-quality school systems can attract a talented workforce to the area. In addition to the significant economic effects of developing a young, skilled workforce, good school systems raise the desirability of an area from a quality-of-life perspective. Low student achievement means that students may be ill-equipped to attend college or perform high-skilled labor. Low-performing schools also may be indicative of socioeconomic challenges in the community, such as poverty.

How do we compare? 

In English language arts, which tests reading and writing skills, 48% of third graders in Greenlee County met or exceeded the state proficiency standards. Maricopa County was second with 46%, Pima and Yavapai counties tied the state for third with 43%. Performance across Arizona's counties varied substantially. Four counties scored equal to or higher than the state average of 43%. The remaining counties scored in the 20% to 40% range, with no counties scoring below 22%.

Maricopa County was the top performer for eighth-grade math. Maricopa at 31% was the only county to exceeded the state percentage of students testing proficient or above in math (29%). Among Arizona counties, Pima County ranked fifth with 26% of eighth-grade students testing proficient or above on the AzMERIT test in math. Apache County had among the lowest scores in both English language arts and math, which reflects the low test scores among Arizona’s Native American students. 

Scores for Arizona’s students varied across race and ethnicity, with all races achieving greater proficiency percentages in third-grade English language arts than eighth-grade math. Asian students achieved the highest rate of proficiency, both in third-grade English language arts (69%), and eighth-grade math (58%). Whites achieved the second highest proficiency rates but showed a larger disparity between English language arts and math, 59% and 39%, respectively. Rates for Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander were nearly 10-percentage points below whites in both categories. Hispanics and blacks lagged even further behind, as both groups had third-grade English language arts near the 30th percentile and eighth-grade math proficiency rates near the 20th percentile. Arizona’s Native American students continue to struggle. Students in this demographic had a 20% proficiency rate for third-grade English language arts, and a 15% rate of proficiency in eighth-grade math.

What are the key trends? 

Between 2003 and 2017, academic scores in Arizona improved more rapidly than the nation, allowing Arizona to surpass the nation in math and gain ground in reading. Math scores for eighth graders in Arizona rose 2.4% over the past decade, compared to an improvement of .6% for the nation, and state scores now exceed the national average. Reading scores for fourth graders also improved, rising from 209.5 to 215.5, over the past decade.  This 2.9% increase for Arizona compared to a .5% increase for the nation has reduced the achievement gap between the nation and Arizona, from 10.1 points in 2007 to 5.3 points in 2017.

How is it measured?

Each fall and spring Arizona students in the third through eighth grades, and high school, take the AzMERIT or the Multi-State Alternative Assessment (MSAA) exam. These exams measure students proficiency in English language arts and math. Percentages reported here are for those students who passed the 2017 school year AzMERIT and MSAA test in third-grade English language arts and passed either the AzMERIT or MSAA test in eight-grade math, meaning that they are proficient or highly proficient in the tested skill. As of 2015, these assessment exams replaced AIMS for reading, writing and math. Unlike AIMS, passing is not a requirement for graduation from high school. National data are the average scale scores from the NAEP, an ongoing student assessment program conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics under the U.S. Department of Education.