Gilbert students surpassed the state’s average in passing mandated standardized tests in English and math administered in the spring, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

However, this year’s AZM2 scores for Gilbert Public Schools and Higley Unified School District fell below their test results from spring 2019 – evidence of the pandemic’s disruption on learning.

 The drop was mirrored for the rest of the state. AzM2, which replaced AZMerit and tests public school and charter school students in grades 3-8 and 10, was suspended for spring 2020 due to the pandemic.

“We are not concerned by this difference,” said HUSD spokeswoman Teresa Joseph. “This is something we expected, due to COVID-19. 

“We are using our progress monitoring tools to identify specific core areas where students may not be performing to mastery level and we are working with our teachers and administrators to address these areas.”

The district also addressed the learning loss by offering summer school credit recovery and booster courses to help provide students in elementary and secondary education with extra support, Joseph said. 

HUSD, the smaller of Gilbert’s two districts, outperformed GPS – as it had in prior years.

 GPS spokeswoman Dawn Antestenis stressed that the test results were still preliminary and that the final certified data won’t be available until this week.

“In comparing the final 2019 data and the preliminary 2021 data, we are seeing a small decrease of 1 percent in English Language Arts and 3 percent in mathematics,” she said. “At the state level the average decrease, as shown in the preliminary data, is 4 percent in ELA and 11 percent in mathematics.  

“As a school district, we will be reviewing all of the data and identifying areas of success and areas for improvement,” she added.

 To address learning loss, Antestenis said, GPS has “a number of initiatives in place such as targeted summer school intervention, which took place over the summer, and our assessment platform, which provides data for teachers to inform their classroom and intervention teaching so that students can receive additional support during the school day.”

Antestenis said the district also intended to use its third round of federal pandemic relief funds to pay for additional learning opportunities for identified struggling students during the school day, after school and during the summer. 

The GPS Governing Board in June discussed using some of the federal pandemic relief funds for on-demand, online tutoring for grades 7-12.  

 The recent test scores for GPS showed that 52 percent of the test-takers passed English language arts and 49 percent passed math compared with the spring 2019 testing where 53 percent passed English and 52 percent passed math. 

Drilling down into the data, 29 percent of the students tested at a minimally proficient level and 20 percent tested at partially proficient while 36 percent tested proficient and 16 percent tested highly proficient in ELA.

 In math, 28 percent tested at a minimally proficient level and 24 percent tested at partially proficient while 30 percent tested proficient and 19 percent tested high proficient.  

Higley saw the biggest decline from its last test year.

 Two years after 63 percent of students passed English and 65 percent passed math, Higley’s recent results came in at 56 percent passing English and 58 percent passing math.

 For English language arts, 22 percent tested minimally proficient and 22 percent tested partially proficient while 31 percent tested proficient and 25 percent tested highly proficient.

  In math, 24 percent tested minimally proficient and 18 percent tested partially proficient while 38 percent tested proficient and 20 percent highly proficient.

Although the scores for both districts were lower than in 2019, they are higher than the state’s average.

Statewide, 38 percent of students passed the ELA section, and 31 percent passed the math section, compared with 42 percent for both tests in 2019, according to the ADE.

 Additionally, fewer students took the tests with 84 percent of students testing in the ELA assessment and 86 percent testing in the mathematics section in the spring.

 Close to 740,000 students took both tests in 2019, but just 520,912 took the math test   and 511,679 took the language skills test in the spring.

Historical participation rates have been at or above 95 percent to meet federal requirements, which were paused last school year. 

HUSD saw 97.85 percent of its elementary students and 90 percent of secondary school students take the math test and 97.88 percent of elementary and 89 percent of secondary students take the ELA test, according to a staff presentation to the Governing Board in July. 

Most of the students who did not test were online students, according to HUSD.

GPS has not yet publicly discussed the test results in detail with the Governing Board.

State education officials stressed that in comparing the spring results with prior years that extreme caution be used due to the “the dramatic and disproportionate impact COVID-19 had on student learning.”

Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, for one, issued a statement calling the AZM2 results “invalid” and that they should not be used for school-to-school comparisons.

The nonprofit said that because the state received a waiver from the Department of Education to not require 95 percent of students to be tested, the tests were not “standardized” with some schools testing fewer than 10 percent of students.

“Overall, 54 schools that beat the 36-percent state average ELA score tested less than 85 percent of their students, rather than the 95 percent that is usually required,” ACSA stated. “Twenty-one schools that look like they are above the state average in English tested less than 60 percent of their students.

“No meaningful standardized data is acquired by testing the kids that just happened to show up.”

The statewide standardize tests, typically given in April, have undergone several transformations over the years. Students originally were tested in Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards or AIMS and were required to pass in order to graduate high school. That stipulation, however, was removed in 2015.

In 2014, the state Board of Education replaced AIMS with AZMERIT, which was replaced by AzM2 in 2019.

Last year, the state board announced new statewide assessments to replace AzM2. Beginning in 2022, students in grades 3-8 will take the AASA or Arizona’s Academic Standards Assessment. 

The new tests are supposed to be a better measurement of students’ proficiency and college and career readiness.

High school students will take tests based on the ACT.