Alabama students perform surprisingly well on this metric, researchers say

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A new analysis gives Alabama kudos for boosting students’ math skills back to where they were before the COVID pandemic.

Researchers with the Education Recovery Scorecard project said the state was the top in the country. And they praised some individual districts, including Birmingham, for recovery efforts.

“Alabama has reason to be proud of its recovery so far,” said Tom Kane, Director of Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research. “Now is the time to finish the job and ensure all districts have recovered to 2019 achievement levels.”

As good as the state looks compared to others, improvements aren’t spread evenly across the state’s school districts, according to the analysis. That’s something the state needs to improve, researchers said.

Stanford University professor Sean Reardon co-authored the analysis with Kane. “Students overall haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels of achievement,” he said. “But clear progress is being made.”

Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey said he is encouraged by the results of the analysis. “I am proud of our outstanding success so far,” he said. “But like every other state across the country, we still have more work to do. This report shows Alabama is on track for continued success.”

The authors’ analysis covered reading and math, but because Alabama’s reading test changed between 2022 and 2023, only math results were considered in the study.

Some districts improved

The analysis showed math achievement in 65 of Alabama’s 137 school districts surpassed 2019 pre-pandemic results, which is good news, but in many of those districts, despite the improvement, students are still testing below grade level.

Statewide, students in 111 school districts scored below grade level in math on 2023 tests.

Still, some of the districts that remain farthest behind national peers have made the most progress.

In Birmingham City Schools, where the average student is 3.5 grade levels behind in math and 80% of students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, student learning outpaced the state as a whole.

Math tests showed Birmingham’s students accomplished more than a year and a half’s worth of learning from 2022 to 2023. The state averaged a year and a quarter’s worth during the same time period.

And in rural Wilcox County, student math results improved at the same rate Birmingham’s did — rising from 3.6 grade levels below in 2019 to 3.0 grade levels below in 2023.

The chart below allows you to select a district to see where the average student is in terms of grade level in math for 2023 as compared to 2022 and 2019. Click here if you are unable to see the chart below.

National district-level comparisons of progress from 2019 to 2023

Researchers compared district-level achievement among 30 states whose 2023 state-level tests were publicly available using a statistically-valid method that equated individual proficiency levels on state tests to state-level results on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP.

The Education Recovery Scorecard is the only publicly-available tool to compare state-to-state results. Click here for the interactive tool showing all results.

Alabama had a good showing among the top tier of those making progress in math. Among 5,700 school districts in the analysis, five of Alabama’s school districts landed among the top 20 for making the most progress in math from 2019 to 2023:

  • 3rd – Piedmont City – 1.8 grade levels
  • 7th – Opp City – 1.3 grade levels
  • 9th – Andalusia City – 1.3 grade levels
  • 11th – Thomasville City – 1.3 grade levels
  • 16th – Boaz City – 1.2 grade levels

This analysis of both changes from 2022 to 2023 and from 2019 to 2023 follows a report from the same authors in 2022, which used statistical methods to compare achievement levels on state tests in reading and math to gauge learning loss over the pandemic, comparing test results from 2019 to 2022.

In that 2022 report, Alabama stood out for success in showing less learning loss than others across the country. Alabama’s school districts further stood out for measures showing Black and Hispanic students had less loss than in other states.

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