test scores

Scottsdale Unified School District students scored higher than the state and national averages on the standardized test scores this spring.

SUSD elementary, middle school and high school scores all exceed bench marks set by the larger population taking the exams.

However, SUSD Governing Board President Julie Cieniawski cautioned against reading too much into the test scores.

“Our student success is what drives our purpose as a school district,” she said. “The standardized test scores provide a partial picture, snap shot in time, indicator of student success. Though it’s not everything, it gives us a reference point to direct our work on behalf of our students.”

This was the first year third through eighth graders took the Arizona Academic Standards Assessment, which was a change in name but not content from the AZMerit2 exam, according to SUSD Director of Assessment and Accountability Dr. Cindy Bochna.

In the English Language Arts assessment, third through eighth graders were at or above the passing mark at varying degrees better than the state average.

Third through eighth graders scored 14% to 25% higher than the state average – with fourth grade scoring the highest above state average.

In math, third through eighth grade students scored 17% to 29% higher than the state averages. Both third grade and fifth grade scored 29% higher than the state average.

“Academic achievement is a major area of focus for our board,” Governing Board member Jann-Michael Greenburg said. “Our state and national exam scores are a testament to this fact and to our students’ and staff’s commitment to future focused, world-class learning. I am confident that SUSD, under superintendent (Dr. Scott) Menzel’s leadership, can build on this momentum and perform even better next year.”

The downside comes when scores are tracked for the same set of students going from fifth grade to sixth grade – the year students switch from elementary to middle school.

ELA scores dropped 14% as students made that transition.

Part of that could be a change in the curriculum taught this year that did not align well with the AASA test, said Bochna.

But math scores also dropped 11% during that same time period.

“In my experience, the change in schools between elementary to middle, from fifth to sixth grade, does play a part in this decline,” Bochna said.

Governing Board member Libby Hart-Wells asked Bochna to take a closer look into what she called “the middle school cliff.”

She told the Progress, “This is not a new observation but for the first time, additional financial resources are available to address social-emotional well-being for our students – which is a critical component to academic attainment, especially in those early teen years.

“Ensuring public schools continue to not only have access to these and other important additional financial resources, but also be able to actually spend them, should be a priority for any elected official or candidate for office.”

Menzel said the dip is a national phenomenon that he’s been tracking for 20 years.

“I would argue that it’s probably larger this year because of the pandemic impact … Some of it is a product of that adolescent development so it’s a combination of factors but it’s definitely something we’ll put a giant circle around.”

Ninth graders this year took the ACT Aspire Test. SUSD freshman scored above the state and national averages on the pre-college aptitude test.

Of the SUSD students who took the test, 68% either meet or exceeded the passing mark in English, 45% meet that mark in reading, 35% in science and 42% in math.

The state percentages were 48% in English, 32% reading, 19% in science and 26% in math.

The national percentages were 61% in English, 43% in reading, 35% in science and 38% in math.

SUSD juniors also outperformed the state and the nation in the ACT college aptitude test as well. Out of a score of one through 36, SUSD students scored 20.5 in math and science, 20.2 in English and 21 in reading.

State average scores were 17.8 in math and science, 16.7 in English and 17.9 in reading.

The national average scores were 19.9 in math, 20.4 in science, 19.6 in English and 20.9 in reading.

Hart-Wells called the scores “no easy feat, given what these extraordinary kids have had to deal with their entire high school attendance.”

She also said she considers state averages as “a floor, not a goal” of where SUSD scores should be at.

“The nation is really where we’re looking and higher,” she said. “The way I look at these, we have to start being competitive across the country and then higher than that.”

The positive test results come on the heels of a difficult year, Bochna said.

“This continued to be a very challenging year in terms of the pandemic impact on students and staff attendance,” Bochna said. “While we were grateful to be open to in person learning all year we also had more students pre-pandemic who were chronically absent for various reasons.

“Second, the impact of having large numbers of our teachers out led our district office staff to spend more time providing vital substitute teaching services which took away from their time to provide professional support for our teachers. A universal theme across all of us is the hope of a 2022/23 school year substantially less impacted by the pandemic of the past few years.

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