State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) has had his hand in legislation to reform Alabama's education system throughout his tenure in the legislature. Despite some recent progress, he said there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Orr was the Senate sponsor of the 2019 Literacy Act and the 2022 Numeracy Act, passed by the legislature to address the state's poor performance in math and reading.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2022 Nation's Report Card released on Monday showed Alabama's average fourth-grade mathematics scores remained the same from 2019 to 2020 but dropped five points for eighth graders.
Despite the lack of improvement, Alabama's fourth and eighth graders rank higher than they did in 2019 compared to other states.
Alabama wasn't the only state in which average scores declined throughout the pandemic. In fact, most states saw a drop in scores for fourth and eighth graders between 2019 and 2022.
"We've got a distance to go," Orr told 1819 News. "Generally speaking, everyone else fell back, and we didn't. We held our ground, but we still need to improve, and I think any educator would certainly agree with that."
The NAEP also showed that Alabama went from last place to 40th in fourth-grade math and from 49th to 39th in fourth-grade reading.
Alabama is still three points behind the national reading average and five points behind in math.
According to Orr, Alabama's academic maintenance through the pandemic rests more on the state's quick return to in-person teaching compared to other states.
"I think, to be honest, it's too early to tell," Orr said. "We've had parts of the Literacy Act that was just ramping up as COVID was hitting and school children were being affected, so it had a little bit of a head start on the Numeracy Act. I do believe Alabama holding in-person classes, compared to a lot of other states, I think made a large difference in our ability to maintain our current levels on the NAEP compared to these states that went all remote for two years."
Orr also emphasized the less-than-optimal testing pool created by the NAEP. According to Orr, due to the limited sampling sizes in data collected by NAEP, the scores do not tell the whole story.
"[Y]ou've got to remember, the NAEP is only a cross-section of students; it is not every student, every grade, every class, it's just a sampling of Alabama fourth-graders and eighth-graders. I think we did good on the sample and good for us. I think we are fortunate, but we've got to improve our scores, not just maintain our scores."
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