Data from the Arizona Department of Education showed no change in third grade English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency from 2022 to 2023, with 41% of Arizona’s 80,000 third graders passing the most recent statewide assessment. The achievement gap between all students and economically-disadvantaged students also remained the same year-over-year.
The percentage of third graders passing the ELA assessment — which encompasses reading, language, and writing — had been increasing steadily prior to the pandemic. Scores rebounded in 2022 but remain below pre-pandemic levels.
The lack of growth in third grade ELA scores in 2023 is disappointing but not completely surprising.
Last year’s third graders experienced the most disruption in learning during kindergarten and first grade, when reading instruction is foundational. Learning loss in this critical period makes it harder to catch up. Arizona’s recent third grade assessment results are in line with national trends showing lower post-pandemic growth in reading scores among students whose kindergarten and first grade years were disrupted compared with those in higher grades.
Chronic absence was another likely factor for the stalled progress in third grade reading.
Rates of chronic absence — the percentage of students who missed ten percent or more of the school year — have spiked to unprecedented levels in Arizona and across the country. More than a third of Arizona’s K-8 students (34%) were chronically absent in 2022, and early data from other states indicate that chronic absence likely remained extremely high in 2023.
Too many absences keep students from learning and advancing, a common-sense conclusion supported by analysis of school-level data that showed an inverse relationship between chronic absence and third grade ELA scores.
All things considered, the 2023 assessment results underscore our collective need to prioritize early literacy in Arizona and do everything we can to help our young children develop the literacy skills they need to be proficient readers and successful in school.
Read On Arizona was launched in 2013 to do just that. Our founding partners understood from the beginning that progress is made incrementally, with no quick fixes or magical solutions.
From 2013 to 2022, Arizona was one of only six states to make gains in fourth grade reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), improving from 45th to 28th in the nation. And we are now one of a handful of states with the comprehensive set of early literacy policies and strategies that are proven to drive improved reading outcomes.
We’re on the right course, but the results of the 2023 statewide assessment show that we still have a long way to go.