Reading in California, math scores show how COVID has affected students

With few exceptions, schools in California have seen a significant drop in standardized test scores this year from pre-pandemic levels, with less than half of students fluent in reading and a third at grade level in math.

Data released Monday — the first statewide test results since 2019 — provided a comprehensive look at the impact of
Distance learning,
high absenteeism ratespain,
Mental Health
problems and other challenges students have faced over the past two years.

Most Bay Area districts saw declines, though wealthier communities generally held up better. Although their proficiency rates declined slightly from 2019 to 2022, they were still more than double the state average in many cases.

Although disheartening, the drop in skill rates was expected. The question was how much would they drop.

In reading, the proficiency rate of Californian schoolchildren fell to 47%, from 51% previously. Students across the state also lost a lot of ground in math, with 33% rated proficient in the subject in the spring, down from 40% in 2019.

Many of the state’s 6 million students have spent months or even more than a year learning online, far longer than most other states. Those hardest hit were in low-income areas or communities of color where students lacked adequate technology and ideal home-learning environments given the large number of frontline workers in their homes. In addition, these students particularly felt the lack of access to meals, health services and other resources offered in schools.

Across the country, approximately 175,000 students have lost a caregiver parent or grandparent to COVID.

School closures, concerns about declining academic achievement and mental health issues have galvanized families and communities, leading to a
school board reminder
in San Francisco and the continued political muscle flexing in races nationwide and in
the bay area.

And while California schools have been fully reopened for the entire 2021-2022 school year, quarantine requirements, COVID surges, a shortage of teachers and other issues have resulted in much less learning than normal. .

“These test scores show the challenges students in California and across the country have faced during the pandemic,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in a statement. “The gaps we were working to fill before the pandemic have persisted, especially for disadvantaged students. We have a lot of work ahead of us. »

The state testing requirement was removed in 2020 and 2021, with many districts opting to use internal assessments instead.

National test results, also released on Monday, show the pandemic has erased more than a decade of educational progress, with similar declines in math and reading to lows in California. Nationally, students posted the lowest scores since 2005. The results of the National Education Progress Assessment, which includes a sample of fourth and eighth graders across the country, showed a steep decline, with only 26% of middle school students. , for example, proficient in mathematics.

“The results show the heavy toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the scale and magnitude of the declines are the largest ever in math,” said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, in a press release. “The findings also underscore the importance of teaching and the role of schools in students’ academic growth and overall well-being.”

California, however, was one of a handful of states with relatively stable scores in reading, but it saw declines in math, like every other state.

The question in many minds is: What now?

“The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly demonstrated the correlation between opportunity and success. Fewer resources means fewer academic gains. Less access to quality education means less learning,” said Christopher Nellum, executive director of The Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based organization that focuses on educational inequality. “But this correlation is a source of hope. With more time in school, students can catch up on anything they missed. With more support, these schools can even accelerate student learning.

This will require more resources, especially for communities with greater needs, he said.

On the state’s standardized test, San Francisco Unified’s 49,000 students saw declines similar to state declines, with the overall math proficiency rate falling to 46% from 51% before the pandemic.

Rates fell slightly in English, from 57% to 55%.

Oakland Unified was among the few exceptions, showing an increase in reading scores — a 2 percentage point increase to 35% — though still well below the state average.

The East Bay District dropped to 26% in math skills, down just 1 percentage point.

But closer analysis of the data shows Oakland has only tested 89% of its students, which is significantly lower than the statewide average of 96%. Of particular note is the low participation rate of students with disabilities in Oakland, where only 84% of those in special education programs were tested, compared to 93% statewide.

“The goal across California is to have 95% of students eligible to take the (test) tested, and we haven’t met that rate, especially in high school,” said district spokesman John Sasaki. “We believe that every family should know how their student is progressing academically and we work with each school site to overcome barriers that schools face when administering assessments.”

San Francisco tested 93% of students overall and 87% of students with disabilities.

The achievement gap has remained relatively stagnant, continuing to show a chasm between black and brown students and their white and Asian American peers.

In San Francisco, the gap in proficiency rates between racial and ethnic groups has reached more than 50 percentage points. Only 9% of black students and 18% of Hispanic students in San Francisco district schools were proficient in math, compared to about 65% of their white and Asian American peers.

“I feel sick to see this,” said Meredith Dodson, executive director of the San Francisco Parent Coalition, which has criticized the district for a slow reopening amid the pandemic. “We all knew it, we saw it happen before our eyes, but there were too many people not listening in positions of power, ignoring students and families. Our leaders could have foreseen how wide this gap has grown. It’s on them, they abandoned our most needy students.

SFUSD Superintendent Matt Wayne, who last week unveiled his
roadmap for recovery
for schools, acknowledged the work to be done to bounce back from the declines.

“We understand that the pandemic has presented a variety of challenges for our community,” Wayne said in a statement. “This year’s results illustrate that we must continue to improve on what works and explore new, innovative strategies to ensure that every student receives the high-quality education and equitable support needed to thrive in the 21st century.

Not all districts have seen their test scores drop amid the pandemic. Bay Area districts with disproportionately fewer low-income families and students of color experienced smaller declines, or even increases, in proficiency rates.

Dublin Unified, for example, saw its overall scores increase slightly in reading and math. Of the district’s 12,500 students, 75% are Asian American or white, while only 8% come from low-income families.

In Piedmont and Fremont, among other districts with similar demographics, proficiency rates also held steady.

State funding has flowed into schools nationwide to help deal with the academic and emotional impact of the pandemic on students, as well as educators. Without the influx of money, the test result might have been worse.

In California, this includes $7.9 billion for targeted tutoring; $4 billion to extend the school day and school year, as well as other additional resources; and $4 billion in grants for health, mental health and other supports to help students deal with pandemic-related trauma.

Superintendent Thurmond said while the 2022 scores show significant declines, it wasn’t all bad news. A sample of the 25% of students who took state assessments in 2021 show better-than-normal improvement in scores this year — an indication that proficiency rates have already started to rebound. According to state officials, this is “an encouraging sign that the state’s strong investments in accelerating learning are paying off.”

Jill Tucker is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: jtucker@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @jilltucker

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