Alabama schools lead nation in gains for black, Hispanic students during pandemic, researchers say

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Black and Hispanic students in Alabama school districts have made some of the biggest academic gains during the pandemic, according to a national analysis released last week.

On Friday, an analysis of state test results from 29 states and D.C. showed that Alabama school districts made some of the highest gains in math and reading from 2019 to 2022.

That analysis, the Education Recovery Scorecard, delved into how the pandemic affected learning loss for black and Hispanic students. Again, Alabama students are among the least affected — although black students in some districts lost more than a year of learning, and Alabama’s overall results remain low compared to other states.

In other words, it is possible for a district to show strong academic performance and still have students learning below grade level compared to the average American student.

At the state level, Alabama had the second-highest gains in reading for Hispanic students—the equivalent of about three months of learning—and while no state increased math scores, Alabama had the smallest learning loss in math, the equivalent of a few weeks.

Among black students, Alabama had the second-lowest learning loss in reading — equal to about a month’s worth of learning loss. In math, black students in Alabama had the fourth lowest learning loss, equal to a quarter year of learning loss.

Read more: See how your Alabama school system stacks up nationally in academic achievement

Most states showed a learning loss of more than half a year for black students in reading and math.

Alabama led the nation in learning gains in reading for white students of the equivalent of a week or so and a loss of a week or so — the smallest loss of any state — in math.

Black and Hispanic students in Alabama school districts

Seven of the top 10 school districts in Alabama were among black students’ reading scores, with Butler County students showing nearly annual academic gains.

Pike Road, Roanoke, Demopolis, Eufaula, Thomasville and Pelham also reported four to seven months of gains. Three counties in Louisiana were also included in the top 10.

In math, eight of the 10 best learning outcomes for black students in math were among Alabama counties, with Demopolis City at the top of the list. Pike Road, Ozark, Henry County, Thomasville, Enterprise, Pelham and Hoover also made the list, along with two counties in Tennessee.

“This has been a tough season. And it’s exciting to see their efforts pay off,” Hoover’s Chris Robbins said of the efforts of parents, teachers and students. “Our students have worked hard, our families have worked hard. And he deserves a pat on the back.”

Alabama took all the spots in the top 10 in reading gains for Hispanic students, with three — Oxford, DeKalb County and Hoover — posting more than a year’s worth of gains for that demographic. No Alabama district showed reading learning loss among Hispanic students.

Read more Ed Lab: Alabama is no longer last in the nation when it comes to education. what has changed?

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Those gains were in stark contrast to losses in districts in northern states, including districts in Michigan, Massachusetts and Minnesota — all of which showed more than a year of learning loss in reading.

Alabama districts posted the top nine highest gains in math scores for Hispanic students, with Boaz showing the strongest gains nationwide at more than half a year of learning. Most Alabama districts where Hispanic students were tested showed gains in math, but two showed a third of a year of lost learning in math.

The complete results of the analysis carried out by experts at Harvard and Stanford universities can be found here.

The Education Recovery Scorecard displays each subject and student group combination on a map and graph as part of a national analysis and shares the data on their website.

The Alabama Education Lab pulled the data and took a deeper look at a wide range of academic outcomes for students across the state.

The map below (click here if you can’t see it) shows the variation in gains and losses for each student group in reading and math. Use the drop-down menu to select a group of students.

Still below grade level for most districts and groups

Alabama’s educational gains have been impressive, especially given how few states and districts have shown any gains, but despite these gains, the achievement levels of most students in Alabama are below grade level compared to the nation as a whole.

The researchers not only looked at the change in education from 2019 to 2022, but also isolated the results from 2022 to determine what grade level those results showed students to have achieved.

When looking at district-level results, grade levels vary widely for students.

In Alabama, using grade-level measures, black students’ math scores ranged from more than half a grade below the U.S. average in Hoover schools to more than four grade levels below in Sumter, Greene, and Bullock counties.

In 11 school districts, results for Hispanic students showed they were reading two or more grade levels below the average for American students. And in two—Montgomery and Birmingham—Hispanic students’ reading levels were more than three grade levels below the U.S. average.

White students’ 2022 reading scores were below grade level in 60 Alabama school districts. In math, white students scored below grade level in 71 school districts, and in two of them—Dallas County and Eufaula City—white students scored more than two grade levels below.

The map below (click here if you can’t see it) shows the equivalent levels compared to the average American public school student in reading and math. Use the drop-down menu to select a subject and group of students.

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