University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Time to Hit the Ground Running

In The View from the OEP on August 11, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Last week. we discussed the large declines in test scores across the state. This week, we dig into the numbers more and try to put them into context.

First of all, we don’t have a good explanation for why the scores dropped so consistently throughout the state, and for every student population. While the challenges associated with the pandemic seem likely to be involved, it isn’t clear to us what the specific cause was. Regardless, we need to get focused on teaching like never before starting on DAY ONE of the school year.

The critical need for a renewed focus on teaching reading, math, English, and science is obvious in the table below that estimates how many months of content knowledge the average Arkansas student fell behind since 2019.

Grade Fall 2021MathReadingEnglishScience
Incoming 6th graders-8.1 months-5.0 months-3.0 months-7.7 months
Incoming 7th graders-9.5 months-3.4 months-5.6 months-7.3 months
Incoming 8th graders-4.1 months-5.7 months-1.5 months-5.7 months
Incoming 9th graders-4.4 months-4.0 months-9.9 months-4.2 months
Incoming 10th graders-14.6 months-6.7 months-23.9 months-4.4 months
Incoming 11th graders-21.2 months-9.0 months-12.0 months-7.3 months
Months Behind in Learning, on Average, for Incoming Students

For example, incoming 6th graders completed the ACT Aspire in spring of 2019, when they were in 3rd grade, and most recently in spring of 2021 when the vast majority of those 3rd grade students were finishing 5th grade. These students, who will be entering 6th grade this fall, are, on average, almost a full year behind in math (8.1 months), 5 months behind in reading, 3 months behind in English, and nearly 8 months behind in Science. We can’t estimate the learning deficits for incoming Kindergartenrs-5th graders, since the only completed the ACT Aspire last spring or not at all, but we do know that rising 4th and 5th graders they scored lower on across all content areas than previous cohorts.

We addressed more details about the test score declines during our interview on Ozarks at Large. We also created an interactive data visualization so educators and stakeholders can see for themselves how students in different schools and districts performed on the 2019 and 2021 ACT Aspire assessments compared to the percentage of students eligible for Free/ Reduced Lunch.

If you would like us to help you interpret your data- just send us an email:

Leave us a comment about how you are going to ensure that your students are catching up during the school year. We know there is a lot going on in schools right now, but it is more important than ever that we focus on student learning.

Note: For these calculations we examined the average scaled score for students in grades 3-8 that completed the ACT Aspire in the Spring of 2019, and for students in 5th-10th grade that completed the ACT Aspire in Spring 2021. We compared the typical 2-year growth for students, based on national norms, to the actual growth of these students. We then transformed the difference into a ‘school month’ base, assuming 9 months of learning per school year.

  1. Are you serious? You don’t understand why test scores were low when so many were virtual students. Many of them didn’t put effort in to it. Parents didn’t make them and schools couldn’t make them. It was a disaster.

    • Thanks for your comment Jerry. We are also concerned about how virtual learning might have impacted students. Given that 70% of Arkansas students were participating in face-to-face instruction and only 20% were participating virtually, it seems improbable, however, that the virtual students alone were the cause of the large decline. Right now we just have school-level data, so it is difficult to evaluate this more fully, but researchers will be examining the more specific student-level data to identify what worked (and what didn’t ) for our students. Thanks!

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