On Monday, the Arizona State Board of Education released a set of analyses on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the progress of state’s students, drawn from reports it prepared with the State Department of Education, Helios Education Foundation, and several other research entities.
These data are deeply concerning as they reinforce what we have seen anecdotally about the pandemic’s disruption of student learning, including an overall decrease in the proportion of students who are proficient in English Language Arts and Mathematics; significant achievement gaps for students who are new English Learners; and higher academic proficiency gaps for Native American, African American, and Hispanic students compared with other ethnic and racial groups.
Arizona Central recently called specific attention to how the pandemic impacted Latino students, highlighting how a combination of socioeconomic disparities, higher rates of illness and loss of family members, job losses, and other factors all intersected, with traumatic results for children and their families.
“The data are significant, and the situation for low-income and Latino students demands not just our attention but our collective action,” said Paul J. Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation. “Helios is taking a multi-pronged approach to tackling educational inequities in Arizona. We are backing the best strategies that can provide solutions for those students trapped in cycles of low achievement, while we build a strategic and equitable response for all children.”
As we recover from the pandemic, Helios Education Foundation believes it is critical for Arizona leaders to focus on three essential issues in education:
- Early literacy. We need to prioritize the development of early reading skills, an important milestone in students' educational journeys. This should include implementing intensive reading interventions and support for those students who are struggling the most, and ensuring that teacher training focuses on evidence based-methods that are the most effective ways to teach students how to read. Both of these approaches form a key part of an initiative of Governor Doug Ducey, ReadOn Arizona and partners, and the state legislature that was passed and signed into law over the summer.
- Rigorous coursework. Students must have access to a wide array of challenging coursework and targeted resources and supports that help ensure they can succeed and graduate from high school ready for college-level work. We must double down on efforts to ensure this access, including greater participation in dual enrollment opportunities, when students enroll in college-level classes while still in high school.
- Better access to information about college access and costs. We need to do a better job making sure all families in Arizona know what the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is and how to complete it. Helios is working with Education Forward Arizona as well as state agencies, community organizations, the university system, and other philanthropic organizations to support the state’s high schools in increasing the percentage of students completing FAFSA forms.
If the state commits to addressing these three priorities, we can better ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn and thrive, from their earliest years in school through college graduation.