Schools may be back to in-person instruction for the most part, but the impact of the pandemic is still being felt by students – most notably when it comes to learning loss.
New data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress – also known as the Nation’s Report Card – shows how the past few years have affected academic achievement among fourth- and eighth-graders in U.S. public schools. And the numbers are concerning. Among the findings – steep drops in math scores.
Meghan Mangrum, reporter with the Dallas Morning News’ Education Lab, spoke with the Standard about what the trends look like in Texas and how educators are reacting.
Texas Standard: Well, first, maybe you can explain what exactly this national report card is and what data it uses.
Meghan Mangrum: Yeah, for sure. NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress], The Nation’s Report Card, is a standardized assessment that’s given every two years. We didn’t see it in 2021 because of the pandemic, so we have actually had a three-year gap. But it’s given to fourth and eighth graders in every state. And there’s also two dozen urban districts, including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston, [where] a larger sample of students are tested in those urban districts.
Well, then, what are some of the biggest takeaways? And I know that a lot of listeners will wonder, how does Texas compare with what’s happened nationally?
Yeah, for sure. Like you mentioned, we saw steep declines across the country. We actually saw the steepest decline in math in the assessment’s history, and that’s [the exam] been given for decades. In Texas, we saw the percentage of fourth graders who were testing as proficient drop from 44% in 2019 to only 38%. So really, only about a third of Texas fourth graders were testing proficient in math. In reading, we stayed stable, but still, only about 30% of students tested as proficient in fourth grade.
I would imagine this would be greatly disappointing to parents and to educators. How are educators reacting to this? I mean, there have been concerns expressed about distance learning and learning loss, but this would seem to confirm some of the most serious fears.
It does confirm some. It really gives us the clearest picture of the pandemic’s impact. It also does conflict a little bit with Texas’ STAAR testing, our state standardized testing, where we saw students making gains. Some educators, you know, are kind of questioning that, wondering which assessment really to pay attention to. Educators argue and state officials argue that Texas’ standardized assessments is assessing students based off of our standards, like what our Texas students are supposed to be learning. I mean, they did show growth. So we are seeing students making some progress, but they’re still not where they were in 2019 before the pandemic. Some people are saying it needs to be a call to action for how we can get students caught up, what interventions are working best – whether it’s tutoring or changing how we teach reading and math. But it really wasn’t completely unexpected, these results.
But when you hear these calls – that we need to double down our efforts and improve education – the reality on the ground, as you well know, is that a lot of schools have a shortage of teachers. They have a shortage of resources. And they’re still scrambling just to catch up – get where they were before the pandemic in terms of some of the basics. Is there anything that Texas policymakers can do to try to bridge the gap between where students are and where they need to be?
Yeah, definitely. I think we’re going to see, at least what I’ve heard from some of my sources, some movement this legislative session and maybe funding different efforts, especially around staffing shortages. Texas’s biggest tool for catching up students has been those tutoring efforts, but some districts are kind of struggling to implement those. It looks different. There’s just logistical challenges, whether that’s needing more bodies, needing more staff to help tutor students or, you know, just needing funding to implement those programs. So I think right now it’s still kind of early, but I think we’re going to see maybe a change of direction in how we use some of the coronavirus relief funds – the federal funds that schools receive that they kind of have a deadline to start using – to tackle learning loss. And the federal government has also said that they’re going to put out a toolkit – and we don’t really know what a toolkit is going to look like yet – for how districts can share best practices across the nation and how states can see maybe what’s working on one state that isn’t, you know, that they aren’t already implementing in their state.