Fact Check: Attack on School Chief Kathy Hoffman Lacks Key Testing Context

By Renee Romo, Alexis Waiss

October 12, 2022

Test scores in Arizona rose slightly after Hoffman took office, then dropped slightly in 2020—as did scores in the rest of the nation, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If your time is short:

  • Arizona school test scores showed modest gains since 2015, including through 2019, when Superintendent Kathy Hoffman took office.
  • Arizona test scores fell during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Student test scores dropped nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the latest report from the National Center for Education Statistics, in reading, the country had the largest decline since 1990, and the first decline in mathematics since national testing began.

The Claim

School test scores are being used to score points in the race for Arizona’s top education seat.

Challenger Tom Horne, a Republican who held the job over a decade ago, said Democratic incumbent Kathy Hoffman has failed to focus on the basics.

“Under the current regime, the focus has been on everything except academics,” Horne tweeted Aug. 21. “Student learning, and therefore student test scores, plummeted. Even before COVID, under the current regime, over half of Arizona students were not proficient in reading or math.”

Hoffman took office in January 2019. That gave her about 14 months before COVID closed schools and put students into online learning. We looked at whether test scores fell on her watch, and how they compared with previous years.

Horne fails to include significant context, in particular, the outside factors played a role in academic proficiency.

We reached out to Horne and he pointed us to the AZMerit results.

Pre-COVID, Arizona’s test scores changed little under Hoffman

When Hoffman became superintendent in 2019, 42% of Arizona students passed the AZMerit for both its reading and math sections. That was four months after she took office and was little changed from the preceding years.

Arizona Department of Education records show that the passing rate for sections of the AZMerit dating back to 2015 ranged from 38% to 41% before Hoffman.

Arizona students showed gradual improvement until the COVID pandemic

The state began using the AZMerit test in 2015. In April 2022, the state switched to the Arizona’s Academic Standards Assessment.

The COVID factor

Standardized testing in Arizona takes place in the spring. Hoffman had been superintendent for four months when students were tested in her first year.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools. The state canceled standardized testing that year. Testing resumed in 2021 and the damage to test scores was striking. For math proficiency, the percentage had fallen from 42% in 2019 to 31% in 2021. For reading, the percentage fell from 42% to 38%.

Among education researchers, there is no debate that COVID-19 upended student learning across the board. The latest national survey found that the country had the “largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first-ever score decline in mathematics.”

In Arizona, scores recovered modestly in 2022. The passing rate for math rose two percentage points to 33%, and for reading, scores went up three points to 41%.

Our ruling

Horne said that under Hoffman, “student test scores plummeted. Even before COVID, under the current regime, over half of Arizona students were not proficient in reading or math.”

Hoffman had been in her position four months when testing took place. At the end of the 2018-19 school year, 42% of Arizona students had achieved a passing score on the state’s standardized reading tests. That was higher than the year prior, and indicative of steady improvement since 2015.

After schools started testing again following COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, student performance did drop. Math scores fell by nine points and reading by four.

But school systems nationwide saw similar declines in student performance.

Horne presents statistics to put Hoffman in a poor light, but he leaves out significant context.

We rate this claim Mostly False.


Tom Horne, tweet, Aug. 21, 2022
Arizona Department of Education, State Assessment Results, 2015-2022
Arizona Department or Education, Detailed Assessment Testing Calendar for 2018-2019, May 4, 2018
Arizona Department of Education Office of Communications, Arizona Department of Education Releases Statewide Assessment Results From School Year 2020/2021, Sept. 8, 2021
National Center for Education Statistics, Reading and mathematics scores decline during COVID-19 pandemic, Sept. 1, 2022
Email exchange with Richie Taylor, director of communications, Arizona Department of Education, Sept. 1, 2022
Email exchange, Matthew Ladner, director, Arizona Center for Student Opportunity at the Arizona Charter School Association, Sept. 9, 2022

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