Student Achievement

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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, 45% of third graders in Maricopa County met or exceeded the state proficiency standards. Yavapai County tied the state for second with 44%, and Cochise and Pima counties were third with 43%. Performance across Arizona counties varied substantially with only two counties reporting scores equal to or higher than the state average of 44% on the third-grade English language arts test. The remaining counties reported scores below the state average with Gila County posting the lowest at 27%.

Graham County was the top performer for eighth-grade math at 36% while Maricopa followed closely at 35%. Graham and Maricopa were the only counties to exceed the state percentage of students testing proficient or above in eighth-grade math (32%). Among Arizona counties, Pima County ranked seventh with 27% of eighth-grade students testing proficient or above on the AzMERIT test in math. Apache County had among the lowest scores in math, with the exception of algebra 1, which reflects the low test scores among Arizona’s Native American students. Of the eighth-grade students taking advanced math classes such as algebra 1 and geometry, a high percentage tested proficient or above. Graham County posted the highest percentage of eighth-grade students testing proficient or above in algebra 1 at 95%, followed by Navajo County at 91%. Pima County posted a percentage of 76%, 3 percentage points above the state. Maricopa County had the highest percentage of eighth-grade students testing proficient or above in geometry at 94%, while Pima County and the state followed with 92%.

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 (66%), and eighth-grade math (60%). White students achieved the second highest proficiency rates at 59% and 44%, respectively. Rates for Two or More Races were 8 percentage points below whites in third-grade English language arts and 6 percentage points below in eight-grade math. 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 21% proficiency rate for third-grade English language arts, and a 16% 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 2018 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. The state’s value for proficiency was used for Greenlee County’s eighth-grade math rate, as the value for high proficiency was not reported. As of 2015, these AzMERIT 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.