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Student Test Scores Still Below Pre-COVID Days *

Have Bay Area students recovered from pandemic learning losses? Here’s what state test scores show

Originally posted in The Mercury News

By Elissa Miolene

Photo caption: The Golden State’s newly released assessment test scores show that across both the Bay Area and the state, students’ performance is still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

PUBLISHED: October 30, 2023 at 5:45 a.m. | UPDATED: October 31, 2023 at 4:26 a.m.

It’s been two years since California’s students returned to the classroom. But the Golden State’s newly released assessment test scores show that across both the Bay Area and the state, students’ performance is still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels — and the most vulnerable students continue to show the steepest losses.

The Bay Area fared better than the state as a whole in 2022-23, but with just 55.4% of students from Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties passing or exceeding the standards for English, and 46.5% for mathematics. That’s according to results of the Smarter Balanced exams, an assessment given to California students in grades three through eight and grade 11 every year.

But when compared to 2018-19, the year before COVID turned schools upside down, the region’s average pass rates are 3-percentage points lower in English and 4 points lower in mathematics. And for every county but San Francisco, this past year’s scores showed less than a 1-percentage point improvement when compared to 2021-22.

“We need to see students in the Bay Area growing by leaps and bounds — not increments and fractions,” said Christopher Nellum, the executive director of the Education Trust-West, an advocacy group focused on equity and education.

Across the state, California students passed or exceeded state standards at an average rate of 46.6% for English. That number fell to 34.6% for mathematics statewide — increasing slightly from the 2021-22 academic year but still resulting in a 5-percentage point drop since the year before the pandemic.

“Between 2022 and 2023, there was hope that we’d see a strong and fast improvement — and that would be evidence that the pandemic produced a blip,” said Heather Hough, the executive director of the Stanford-based research center, Policy Analysis for California Education. ”Instead, we saw essentially no change … at least, not anything that gets us close enough to what was lost between grades pre-pandemic to post-pandemic.”

Scores also varied widely by demographic. White students in the Bay Area were 2.5 times as likely to meet or exceed English standards than Black students, and nearly 3.5 times more likely to do the same with math.

Students who were homeless or in foster care, along with those classified as English-language learners, fared worst of all. Just over 1 in 10 of the Bay Area’s English learners met or exceeded the state standards for English or math, compared to more than 1 in 2 of Bay Area students overall. The lowest scores across all demographics in the Bay Area came from foster students’ math scores, as just under 9% meeting or exceeding standards.

That’s despite the fact that California has funneled billions of dollars into the state’s education system, hoping to curb pandemic-era learning loss and get students back on track.

Since 2020, schools in California have received $33.5 billion in pandemic relief funding, the vast majority of it coming from the federal government. Schools received state money for extra tutoring, expanded afterschool programming, and free breakfast and lunch, along with mental health support for students of all ages, and transitioning schools and students to remote learning during the lockdowns.

On top of that, a nearly $8 billion grant from the state is funding pandemic learning recovery efforts until 2028.

For Hough, the Smarter Balanced scores suggest that perhaps those investments weren’t allocated toward the right things and that different approaches might be needed to catch up. But Nellum said those investments take time, and he wasn’t surprised their impact wasn’t reflected in the latest test scores.

“I don’t think what we’re seeing right now is an indictment of those investments,” said Nellum. “We have to give those investments a second to take hold and gain traction.”

Still, schools are in a difficult spot, said Hough. Students came back to the classroom after months of learning at home, often bringing behavioral issues, a lack of social skills and mental health challenges with them. Overnight, teaching became much more difficult — and an ongoing teachers’ shortage exacerbated how those conditions played out in schools.

Even so, there were bright spots. One of the Bay Area’s largest districts, Dublin Unified, saw 2% more students meeting or exceeding both math and English standards than they had before the pandemic. At Cupertino Union — the highest-performing of the Bay Area’s largest 20 districts — 84% of students met or exceeded the standards in both subjects, although that still lagged behind its 2018-19 scores. Across the state, chronic absenteeism, defined as when a student misses 10% or more of school days, fell from 30% in 2021-22 to 25% in 2022-23.

“That was a big thing. It’s hard to recover, make up for lost ground, and accelerate learning when students are attending less than they were, on average, than before the pandemic,” said Julien Lafortune, a research fellow focusing on education at the Public Policy Institute of California. “Students are not missing as many days, but it’s still a big challenge. For all these programs, students need to be there.”

* Original Title from the Printed News Article

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