Just Thinking

Arizona Scores Edge Upward; Achievement Gap Persists

by Richard Gilman

Arizona shimmied up a few notches on the “Nation’s Report Card” released yesterday, but the achievement gap stemming from race and socioeconomic status remained virtually unchanged.

Arizona’s fourth- and eighth-graders scored a total of seven points more in the biennial assessments of math and reading than they did in 2011.  While not seeming like much, the increase was greater than the national gain of five points and ranked as the 11th highest increase among the states.  Tennessee led with an increase of 22 points.

The National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the exams, cautions against adding the results into composite scores.  But if the results were to be added together, Arizona’s total score of 994 ranked 40th among all states.  That’s up two places from 2011, when its score of 987 ranked 42nd.

Massachusetts once again led the nation with a composite score of 1,063.  Mississippi was again the lowest with 964.  The national average was 1,011.

Almost all of Arizona’s seven-point increase came in fourth-grade math.  The state’s s fourth-graders ranked 33rd in the country with a score this year of 240, up from 235 in 2011.  Their math proficiency outdid their performance in reading, where they came in 45th.

The state’s eighth-graders also did better in math than reading.  They ranked 39th in the math assessment and 44th in reading.

The report card showed no improvement in the achievement gaps associated with race and socio-economic status.

Arizona’s Asian students had the highest scores in all the categories but fourth-grade reading.  They were followed fairly closely by whites.  Hispanics and blacks lagged far behind, trailing whites in each of the categories by 19 or more points.

These are not insignificant differences.  White fourth-graders in the state scored, for instance, 251 on the math assessment.  That was just two points less than the three states that scored highest in that category.   Arizona’s Hispanic fourth-graders, meanwhile, scored 232.  That was only one point better than bottom-ranked Mississippi.

Arizona’s Native Americans trailed even further behind, by another 10 points or more.  On the somewhat positive side, they were able to make up a little of the huge gap in eighth-grade math, gaining six points since 2011.

State Supt. of Public Instruction John Huppenthal responded to the results by telling the Arizona Republic: “We’re in a positive trend in Arizona but we’re not doing nearly enough to make the American dream come true, especially for our Native Americans.”

The achievement gap, however,  also continued to plague the poor.  The many students who were eligible for free or reduced price lunch also lagged far behind, again by 20 or more points.

Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, acknowledged to The New York Times that “absolutely, without question, demographics are a factor.”

Still in noting there were several unspecified exceptions to that rule in the new assessments, Buckley argued, “Demography is not destiny.”




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