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The Impact of COVID on Academic Performance in Arizona

Author: Helios Education Foundation

September 27, 2021

On September 27, the Arizona Department of Education presented a report to the State Board of Education outlining the results of the 2021 AZ Merit 2, Arizona’s standardized test to measure student  performance.  The results are not unexpected given the tremendous toll that the pandemic took on students and educators.  However, we now have quantifiable data indicating that schools are struggling and our students are going to need extra support to bring them back to where they were pre-pandemic.  There are bright spots ahead and collaborative work already underway to provide these supports and help ensure our students are on the path toward postsecondary success. 

When looking at overall school performance on English Language Arts (ELA), on one end we have 14% of schools holding steady from 2019 or making modest improvements.  On the other end, we have 15.8% of schools showing significant declines in achievement.  However, the bulk of schools – 70% - show modest to large declines.  In math, we see 11% holding steady or showing modest improvements, 42% showing significant declines, and 47% showing modest or large declines.  This data shows that our schools are going to need help and our educators have a big hill to climb to address the impact of COVID-19 on our students. 

The data presented today also allowed for some analysis of demographic subgroups including Latino and low-income.  As we dig further into the student-level data for these two groups, we find even more concerning results.   In 2021, only 23% of Hispanic/Latino third-graders passed the ELA portion of the AZ Merit 2 exam, compared with 50% of White third-graders.  In addition, only 21% of low-income students showed passing rates for third-grade ELA.  Third-grade is of particular interest to Helios as it is one of the foundational benchmarks to ensure that a student is on track for future academic success.  The third-grade data indicates that the achievement gap has grown significantly during the pandemic and some of our most vulnerable students were impacted the most.

The results of the 2021 Az MERIT 2 exam indicate that there is much work to do to address the declines that occurred over the pandemic as well as continue to ensure that all students are on a path toward college and career readiness.  However, what we know and what history has shown us is that our educators are up to the challenge.  They have risen to the occasion for the past 18 months and they will continue to do so now that they are back in classrooms and teaching in person.  This data, while sobering, is what our community needs to understand in order to help support our schools and help our students get back on track.  We will remain committed and continue to work in partnership with others to support our educators and our students as they work to recover from the unprecedented challenges that the pandemic caused to our education system. 

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