Student Achievement

How are we doing?

NAEP Scores for 8th Grade Math (2019)

In 2019, Arizona ranked fifth in eight-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 while the national average has fallen slightly during the past few years, 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, 52% of third graders in Greenlee County passed the AzMERIT test meaning they met or exceeded the state proficiency standards. Maricopa and Yavapai counties tied for second with 48%, and Cochise and Pima counties tied the state for third with 46%. Performance across Arizona counties varied substantially with five counties reporting scores equal to or higher than the state average of 46% on the third-grade English language arts test. The remaining counties reported scores below the state average with Gila County posting the lowest at 28%. 

Maricopa County was the top performer for those who scored proficient or higher on the eighth-grade AzMERIT test in math at 36%, while Graham followed closely at 35%. Along with Graham and Maricopa, Cochise County exceeded the state percentage of students passing eighth-grade math at 33%. Among Arizona counties, Pima County ranked eighth with 26% 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.

Some students in the eighth grade take advanced placement math courses such as algebra 1 and geometry. Of the eighth-grade students taking these advanced math courses, a high percentage tested proficient or above. Graham County posted the highest percentage of eighth-grade students who tested proficient or above in algebra 1 at 94%, followed by Apache County at 93%. Pima County posted a percentage of 80%, four percentage points above the state. Gila County had the highest percentage of eighth-grade students who passed geometry at 99%, while Yavapai County followed with 95%. All math refers to those eighth-grade students who tested proficient or above on at least one of the following assessments: grade 8 math, algebra 1, algebra 2, or geometry.

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 (71%), and eighth-grade math (62%). White students achieved the second highest proficiency rates at 61% and 44%, respectively. Rates for Two or More Races were six percentage points below whites in third-grade English language arts and seven 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 22% 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 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 near 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. Reading scores for fourth graders also improved over the past decade, rising from 210 to 215.8. This 2.8% increase for Arizona compared to a .1% decrease for the nation has reduced the achievement gap between the nation and Arizona, from 9.6 points in 2009 to 3.6 points in 2019.

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 2019 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 percentage of eighth-grade students who passed geometry in Gila County was reported as >98% so we report 99%. 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.