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Coronavirus pandemic could impact key Arizona education goals

(Al Seib/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona could be on track to fall farther behind on meeting key education goals, and the coronavirus pandemic is to blame.

The Arizona Education Progress Meter set goals for the state to meet by 2030, ranging from access to quality early learning to post-secondary attainment.

It’s still too early to tell how the pandemic impacted some areas, including third grade reading and eighth grade math, since there was no statewide testing last spring.

“This spring’s assessment will be the first time we really almost set a new baseline for what the impacts are on those students in those areas,” Christine Thompson, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, said.

Her group helped develop the progress meter, along with the Center for the Future of Arizona, in February 2016. It shows key milestones that need to be met to be on the path to improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all Arizonans.

Thompson said it’s possible there will be a dip in the quality of early learning, as some parents choose to stay home with their young children instead of taking them to early learning programs.

She added the pivot to virtual learning last spring created stressors for students and teachers. She’s worried about how that impacted the quality of learning.

The coronavirus pandemic forced schools to close last spring with just a few months before graduations. Thompson said she feels schools did everything they could to get students to graduate, so she doesn’t expect last school year’s graduation rates to be gravely impacted.

“What I’m more concerned about is kids who fell behind last spring who might’ve been freshmen, sophomores or juniors and whether we can get them back on track to graduation,” Thompson said.

New data will be available in early 2021, including high school graduation rates for last spring. Data on 3rd grade reading and 8th grade math won’t be available until next summer or fall.

Thompson said the new numbers will show if groups of students were adversely impacted by the pandemic. She’s worried that the achievement gaps between white students and students of color will widen.

She’s also concerned about the amount of students going on to post-secondary education. She noted that while the three state universities saw an increase in enrollment, Maricopa Community Colleges saw a 15% drop in enrollment in the fall.

“This pandemic is going to have long-term impacts on our education system,” Thompson said.

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