CUSD student achievement scores exceed state averages SanTan Sun News

CUSD student achievement scores exceed state averages

September 16th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
CUSD student achievement scores exceed state averages
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By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted education in many predictable ways, but one factor in lower test scores may not be so obvious. Many students took their standardized AzMERIT achievement tests using old-fashioned pencil and paper.

“We have been doing computer-based testing, but last year we had to revert to paper testing,” said Dr. Jennifer Fletcher, the executive director of accountability, assessment and research for Chandler Unified School District. “Students are used to the tools they have available on a computer, I’m not sure that’s the same for paper and pencil.”

Nevertheless, Chandler Unified students overall scored higher than the statewide averages.

The percentage of Chandler Unified School District students who achieved proficiency in English totaled 56 percent while 49 percent “passed” the math portion.

Results released by the state Department of Education showed that 38 percent of all students statewide showed proficiency in English and 31 percent in math, compared to 42 percent for both tests in 2019, the last year for which test results are available. Tests were not administered last year.

Of course, there were many challenges that educators faced in 2020. There was a switch to online learning, mask mandates, health and mental health issues, social distancing and other factors that made last year one of the most challenging in education history.

Because of those difficulties, a warning is placed on the front page of this year’s results, which were released at the end of last month. Basically, it reads, please don’t compare these results to previous years.

Overall, Fletcher said, Chandler Unified did well.

“We saw only a 1 percent decrease in ELA scores,” she said, referring to English Language Arts. “We did see a larger decline in math, but that might have been related to students not knowing how to use tools in a paper-based test.”

She said some of those tools might have included rulers or calculators, things most students use all the time online, but perhaps have little experience offline.

Results show four different levels of proficiency and of those who took the test only about 20 percent of CUSD students showed high proficiency in either subject.

“We’re pleased that we are outperforming the state,” Fletcher said. “We also looked at the districts that are close to us, and we are doing well compared to them.”

Fletcher said one takeaway from these results is a recognition that the district should expand efforts to help students prepare for these tests so they are comfortable doing them both online or with paper and pencil. The tests later this year are expected to revert back to computer-based for K-8 students.

One area that may have helped CUSD fare better than many districts, Fletcher said, is the district’s push for more in-person learning than others.

“One of the things we’re hearing is anecdotal,” Fletcher said. “In-person learning schools saw less of a decline. So we want to focus on that as much as possible, keeping in mind that we also want to be safe and have our mitigation efforts.”

Another possible factor in lower test scores is participation, which was down significantly because of the pandemic.

If the usual number of students had taken the test, it could have impacted the district’s overall performance either up or down, but there’s no way to know which direction since they didn’t take the test.

Fletcher said she hasn’t done a deep look at the subgroups, the breakdown of testing scores by race, gender or other factors.

Told that statewide numbers showed white students did better and minority students saw big drops in their scores, she responded:

“That probably isn’t surprising, given the access to computers and other tools.”

The results show 64 percent of CUSD white students passed the ELA test and 57 percent did the same on math. Asians also fared well, with 78 percent passing both tests.

However, there were significant declines for other racial groups. For African Americans, 39 percent passed the ELA and 24 percent passed the math test. For Hispanic/Latinos, 39 percent passed ELA and 29 percent passed math.

Students who have other significant life challenges also fared poorly. Only 23 percent of homeless students passed ELA and 19 percent passed math. The percentages for students with disabilities were 21 percent passed ELA and 18 percent passed math.

The challenge is not over. This year is presenting as many problems as last year as far as educating students.

“COVID is not going anywhere,” Fletcher said. “There’s a time and place for students to work at home, and we have to find a way to keep them engaged so when they come back to school they don’t have a 10-day gap and come back lost and confused.”

Fletcher said knowing what she knows now having gone through a pandemic, the advice she would give those in her position five years ago if she could give them a message is focus on improving online education.

“No one thought of moving online then,” Fletcher said. “We’ve seen a major impact in the difference between in-person and online learning. If we knew the pandemic was coming, we would have made Google classrooms a priority.”

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