COVID-19 pandemic causes Arizona to fall further behind on meeting key education goals

Jan 7, 2022, 4:45 AM
(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona has several education goals to reach by 2030, and so far the pandemic has caused the state to fall further behind.

“This data is really a reflection of the pandemic on our education system,” Rich Nickel, president and CEO of the advocacy group Education Forward Arizona, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“So yes, we’re going to see results that we don’t like. But they’re not unexpected considering where we are.”

The Arizona Education Progress Meter was created in 2016. It sets goals for the state to meet on everything from access to quality early learning to post-secondary attainment.

The latest data for the progress meter shows an 11% drop in third grade reading proficiency and a 14% drop in eighth grade math proficiency over the past three years.

High school graduation rates saw a slight decrease while post high school enrollment now stands at 46%, down from 53% in 2018.

“We’re seeing that students of all ages, from early education to K-12 and postsecondary education, they’ve all been negatively affected by the pandemic,” Nickel said.

For Nickel, it’s especially concerning to see the number of 3- and 4-year-olds participating in early learning opportunities drop from 24% to 17% over the past three years.

“We don’t think it’s a far reach to predict that, that will ripple through the continuum as those students enter grade school and elementary school and continue on,” he said.

Nickel explained children who have access to quality early learning are more prepared for kindergarten. It also helps them develop their vocabulary, math and social skills. And as they move forward in school, they’re more likely to do well and graduate.

He added students living in poverty and students of color have been impacted the most by the pandemic and continue to perform at drastically lower rates than the state average.

“I think the way we should look at this probably isn’t thinking about how far does this put us behind, but what should we be doing moving forward,” Nickel said.

He said this should be “a catalyst” for state lawmakers, business leaders and education officials to come together and work toward meeting the state’s education achievement goals.

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COVID-19 pandemic causes Arizona to fall further behind on meeting key education goals