Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Goldwater Institute: Demographics no excuse for Arizona's dismal test scores

I received the following question after last week's article explained that (once again) Arizona scored below the national average on the Nation's Report Card, this time in Math:
Do these test scores take into consideration the massive influx of students who do not speak English and who do poorly on tests?
Before I break the data down by ethnicity and other student groups, I want to note that the JLBC reveals that total inflation adjusted spending per pupil increased by more than 20 percent between fiscal year 2000 and 2009 alone.
Ok, buckle up for a ride through the scores, it is going to get rough.
  • In 1992, white Arizona students scored 2 points below the national average of white students; in 2009 they scored 5 points below the national average. Five points represents about half a grade's worth of learning. Essentially, white students in Arizona are about half a grade behind white students nationally.
  • Arizona's African American students scored 6 points ahead of the national average for African Americans in 1992. In 2009, they tied the African American national average.
  • In 2003, Arizona's Asian students scored 2 points below the national average for Asian students. In 2009 they scored 10 points below their national peers, or a full grade level behind. Over the course of this decade, Arizona's American Indians doubled their learning gap from 5 to 10 points, and are now also a full grade behind other American Indians.
  • In 2000, Arizona's ELL population scored 4 points below the national average, but in 2009 they scored 17 points below the national average. Immigration obviously played a role. But, if you examine the trend for non-ELL students you find that they scored 4 points behind the national average in 2000, but 7 points behind in 2009.
Some of the gaps grew larger while scores actually improved, but the overall trend is unmistakable: Arizona isn't keeping pace for any student ethnic subgroup. Are demographics a challenge? Yes. But they are no excuse.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
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