Arkansas students' preliminary achievement-test scores decline during pandemic

FILE — This 2015 file photo shows public school buses. (AP Photo/File)
FILE — This 2015 file photo shows public school buses. (AP Photo/File)

Student achievement on the state-required ACT Aspire exams declined in the spring of 2021 as compared to the results for third-through-10th graders in the spring of 2019, Arkansas education leaders said Wednesday.

Preliminary state and school district results from the spring test were posted on the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website Wednesday morning, several weeks before the anticipated release of the results in August.

“The results are not surprising and reflect a learning loss that was expected not only here in Arkansas but around the country,” Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key said, adding that the achievement decline was not as it low as it possibly could have been.

“Because Arkansas schools were open since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, we are confident that additional learning loss was mitigated.

The largest decrease in test results occurred in math, according to the division’s initial review of the results. For example, 34.60% of students in fifth grade met math readiness benchmarks compared to 49.17% who met the readiness standard

The results from the statewide test come in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic that resulted in all Arkansas public schools being closed to onsite instruction in March 2020 and the cancellation of the 2020 Aspire test. Schools were open in the 2020-21 school year, but the school year was continually disrupted by the disease, quarantines and the novelty of online instruction that was available for the thousands of families that chose to keep their children at home.

Despite the erratic school year, 97% of the state’s students who were eligible to take the Aspire tests in math, literacy and science did so, according to the division.

“We now have reliable, accurate data, along with other measures, to help us identify where the biggest impacts occurred,” Key said about the benefits of the high rate of testing.

“We clearly have a lot of work to do to accelerate learning this school year; however, we are committed to providing additional supports to assist districts in their efforts this school year.” Key said.

Typically, the Aspire test results are a component in calculating and assigning A-F letter grades to schools.

Legislation earlier this year waived the A-F state rating scale for the 2020-2021 school year, so schools will not receive a letter grade for that time period.

Because the Aspire tests were not given in 2020, the 2021 administration of the ACT Aspire marked the first time third-and fourth-graders took the online assessment.

To help provide a better understanding and explanation, the state division is partnering with ACT Inc., maker of the Aspire test to conduct a study to determine the impact of various factors on test scores.

A report is expected this fall, officials said.

Scores can be accessed at

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