COVID-19 impacts

Scottsdale Unified School District students scored higher on their standardized test results this year than their counterparts statewide.

The district’s results this year were slightly lower than 2019 – the last time the test was taken – but state education officials caution against comparing this year’s numbers with past scores because of the impact COVID-19 has had on education.

“COVID-19 significantly impacted students and families, and scores reflect the challenging learning environments many students faced,” the Arizona Department of Education said. 

Of the SUSD students who took the test, 55 percent showed proficiency in – or “passed” English Language Arts and 52 percent scored proficiency in math.

That’s compared to 38 percent and 31 percent respectively state-wide.

Proficiency is further broken down in the test data into four categories, ranging from minimally proficient to highly proficient. Of SUSD students who tested, 19 percent showed high proficiency in English and 24 percent tested highly proficient in math.

“It is important to remember that AzM2, like the AzMerit assessment before it and the AASA (Arizona's Academic Standards Assessment) which will launch this school year, are point-in-time assessments that provide one indicator of student performance,” Scottsdale Unified Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel said.

“However, in the context of the 2020-2021 school year, we are pleased to see that our SUSD students continue to outperform the state averages, in many cases by significant margins,” he continued.

“These results, especially given they are comparable to pre-pandemic results, reflect on the resilience and determination of our students and staff.”

In 2019, 56 percent of district students who tested passed in English Language Arts and 57 percent in math. The number of SUSD students taking the test shrank significantly – as it did across the state.

Approximately 9,915 SUSD students took the English test and roughly 9,970 took the math test this year. That’s down from approximately 15,920 and 15,285, respectively, in 2019.

Statewide participation fell from about 740,000 in 2019 to 511,000 this year. That drop also saw a dip in statewide scores by 4 percent in English language arts and 11 percent in math.

“We know our students are ready to learn, and our teachers are ready to provide every student with the academic and mental health support they need,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

“Together, our school communities are prepared to accelerate learning and help students succeed. We know that the most effective teaching and learning happens in the classroom when students are learning with their peers and a highly qualified educator.

“I am deeply concerned about what another school year disrupted by COVID-19 will mean for our students. We must get the virus under control and use proven mitigation measures in schools so safe in-person learning can be maintained throughout the year.”

Typically, states are required to test at 95 percent of students in order to meet federal standards, but Arizona was granted an exception this spring because of COVID-19.

The AzCharter School Accountability group figures the participation rates were so low that scores should not be considered valid.

“As a result, the AzM2 test was not ‘standardized,’ with some school testing less than 10 percent of students,” the group said in a written statement. “Comparing schools and districts or stating state averages is now impossible unless one considers how many students each school tested.”

“Which kids came to school to take the test in person? Did the good students show up to take the test...or the poor, minority, and at-risk students that might not have technology and transportation?” the statement continued.

The AzM2 test, formerly known as AzMerit, and the Multi-State Alternative Assessment are taken by students in grades 3-8 and 10th grade. They are used to measure students’ progress and compare different schools and districts in the state against each other. 

However, the test was suspended last year since most students were in distance learning programs starting in March 2020 and there was no way to administer the test in April.

Standardized tests have their uses but they don’t tell the whole story of what is going on with a student, said Erin Hart, Education Forward Arizona chief of policy and community impact.

They are good for state lawmakers to determine the state of education in Arizona and they do provide a snap shot of how a student is doing at the singular point in time the test is taken.

“There’s some relevancy there it’s just not a complete story to how kids are doing because there is just so many more that factors that go into how a student is doing... even better are informal quizzes, classroom participation and homework,” Hart said.

The AzM2 will not be given next year. Instead, third through eighth graders will take a test developed by NCS Pearson while high school students will take the American College Testing (ACT) exam this spring.

The ACT is a nationally recognized college entrance exam.

Hart warned against the urge to compare the results from the new test to the AzM2. “I’m not sure what extent comparisons will be made but any time you switch assessments you have to be careful about comparing the results,” she said.