Testing scores plummeted nationwide after pandemic. Will West Virginia rally?

Math and reading scores were down across the country in the most recent national education assessment, a plunge widely attributed to learning loss from the covid-19 pandemic.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called the results “appalling and unacceptable” after the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress for the first time since 2019.

West Virginia’s results weren’t great in prior years and then plummeted even more following the pandemic disruptions of the past couple of years.

Schools shut down in West Virginia and elsewhere in the spring of 2020, as covid-19 started sweeping across the country. School was open but frequently disrupted in West Virginia the following fall, prior to the development and release of vaccines.

West Virginia set up wi-fi connections in 850 settings like schools, libraries, higher education facilities, National Guard armories, and State Parks to try to assure students would have access.

Nevertheless, the National Center for Education Statistics concluded that students who had better access to key educational resources during that period of frequent remote learning were more likely to perform better on standardized assessments.

Those included:

  • Access to a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet all the time;
  • A quiet place to work at least some of the time;
  • Their teacher available to help with schoolwork at least once or twice a week; and
  • For eighth-graders, real-time video lessons with their teacher every day or almost every day.
Dale Lee

“We certainly are not happy with the results,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “But it shows a couple of things. One, it shows the value of having that highly-qualified, certified instructor in front of those kids every day.

“In the last couple of years we’ve missed a number of days and went virtual for a long time, and they didn’t have that highly-certified teacher in front of them every day. And it shows you the connectivity problem that we have, the broadband problem that we have — and a number of our students don’t have the internet.”

In mathematics, West Virginia public school fourth graders had an average score of 226, only better among states than New Mexico. In reading, the other big area assessed, West Virginia fourth graders scored an average 205, only better than New Mexico and Alaska.

West Virginia public school eighth graders scored 260 on average in math, only better than New Mexico. The West Virginia eighth graders scored a 249 in reading, again only better than New Mexico.

Debra Sullivan

“Missed instruction is impactful, and it has affected our West Virginia students, our United States students, and we must all work hard to ensure our students receive the necessary resources and support,” state school board member Debra Sullivan said earlier this week on “Talkline.”

Nationally, the test was administered to 446,700 students at 10,970 schools in all states at the beginning of the calendar year. It is scored on a scale of 0 to 500.

Not all students take the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The assessment is administered to a sample of schools whose students reflect varying demographics of the state. Within each school and grade being assessed, students are chosen at random to participate.

So those results are a guidepost but don’t reveal everything, said Jackson County Schools Superintendent Will Hosaflook. The superintendent said the assessment does less to reveal what skills are lacking with students. The potential for improvement is where educators need to focus every day, he said.

“The report is a snapshot in time. It’s a snapshot in time of our fourth and eighth graders,” Hosaflook said on WMOV Radio. “However, we’re always built around the improvement process. We want to see where kids are, try to help them improve.”

Monongalia County Superintendent Eddie Campbell said more consistent time in classrooms will pay off.

“We spent a year phasing our kids back in to make sure they were ready to be back in the classroom, to make that transition from the covid schooling experience they had to the more natural experience that most of our students, with the exception of our youngest group, were accustomed to. But this year our focus was really on resetting our approach and getting back to the rigor and relevance that’s expected of our classrooms.

“I think as this first quarter comes to a close relatively soon, we’re seeing that we took the right approach, and our kids are much more prepared to kind of raise the bar this year — and that’s where we’re going. We’re pushing student attendance to get kids back in the classroom. We can’t teach them if they’re not in the classroom. And when they are in the classroom, we’re back to that high level of rigor that’s always expected.”

Lee, the WVEA president, agreed that being in the classroom will yield better results.

“Our educators are there daily. They know these changes, they know the kids, and they know what it takes to help them and to get them to improve,” Lee said on “Talkline.” “Give them that opportunity and I guarantee you’ll see huge increases.”

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