Read About Student Achievement Levels in Tucson, Arizona MSA
How are we doing?
NAEP Scores 8th Grade Math (2022)
In 2022, Arizona ranked sixth in eighth-grade math scores administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) compared to the 10 Western states. That placed Arizona students slightly below the national average. Arizona math scores declined significantly from 2019, reflecting the impact of the pandemic on education outcomes. Arizona experienced declines similar to the nation. Among the Western states, New Mexico, Washington, and Colorado posted the largest declines, while Utah, Idaho, and Nevada experienced the smallest. In contrast, Arizona’s 4th-grade reading scores held steady during the pandemic.
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 2023, 41.0% of students in Arizona passed the Arizona Academics Standards Assessment (AASA) in English Language Arts (ELA). In Greenlee County, 57% of third-graders met or exceeded the state proficiency standards. Maricopa County placed second at 43%, while Graham County was third at 42%. Pima County lagged just behind the state at 40%. Performance across Arizona counties varied substantially, with only three counties reporting scores higher than the state average of 41% on the third-grade ELA test. The remaining counties reported scores below the state average, with La Paz County posting the lowest at 18%.
3rd Grade Students Passing the AASA ELA Test (2023)
AzM2 scores in 2021 were lower across the board than in 2019. The statewide test was not administered in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic created a challenging environment for students and educators. Year-to-year comparisons should be assessed with caution. However, the data in 2021 allows us to track where the students currently are and to appropriately address the steps necessary for our children’s education as we move beyond the challenges the pandemic created. In 2022, the state of Arizona introduced a new standardized test, AASA, that is similar to the prior AzM2 or AZMERIT tests but is not identical, making comparisons difficult.
In the AASA Math test, 27% of eighth-graders statewide met or exceeded the state proficiency standards. That share increased to 30% for eighth-graders in Maricopa County. Pima County fell just shy of the state percentage at 26.0%. Performance across Arizona counties varied substantially, with only one county reporting scores equal to or higher than the state average of 27% on the eighth-grade math test. The remaining counties reported scores below the state average, with Gila County posting the lowest at 11%.
In 2022, Arizona ranked sixth in eighth-grade math scores administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This placed Arizona students just below the national average in eighth-grade math. In fourth-grade reading, Arizona students also 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. In 2022, Arizona ranked fourth among Western states in fourth-grade reading scores, a significant improvement from ninth place in 2019.
Scores for Arizona’s students varied across race and ethnicity, with nearly 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 (70%) and eighth-grade math (68%). White students achieved the second-highest proficiency rates at 56% and 41%, respectively. Rates for Two or More Races were four percentage points below whites in third-grade English language arts and eight percentage points below in eighth-grade math. Hispanics and African Americans 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 15th percentile. Arizona’s Native American students continue to struggle. Students in this demographic had a 17% proficiency rate for third-grade English language arts and a 9% rate of proficiency in eighth-grade math.
What are the key trends?
Between 2003 and 2015, 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 by nearly a percentage point over the past decade, compared to a decline of .25% for the nation. However, in 2019 math scores in Arizona declined slightly once again dropping below the nation. Math scores in Arizona and nationally declined further during the pandemic. Reading scores for fourth graders also improved over the past decade, rising from 210 to a high of 215.8 in 2019. This 2.8% increase for Arizona compared to a 0.1% decrease for the nation has reduced the achievement gap between the nation and Arizona. During the pandemic, reading scores in Arizona held steady while declining nationally. This reduced the achievement gap further during a challenging environment for both educators and students caused by the pandemic.
How is it measured?
Each fall and spring, Arizona students in the third through eighth grade and high school take the AASA exam. These exams measure students’ proficiency in English language arts and math. Percentages reported here are for those students who passed the 2023 spring AASA test in third-grade English language arts and eighth-grade math. In 2022, the AASA test replaced the AzM2 testing format. As of 2015, the AzM2 (formerly referred to as 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.