As more data on the effects of the pandemic are published, it’s clearer than ever that COVID has negatively affected all aspects of American life, especially in education. But severe staff shortages, high rates of absenteeism and quarantines, and rolling school closures are just the tip of the iceberg, as it’s the students that have suffered the most. Academics are down, and more and more reports convey that math levels have suffered the most of core subjects taught in school. Backing up this belief, a new report from Ed Source shows that the math scores of California’s average eighth-graders were in line with those of students in fifth grade last year.
The new analysis took data from The Golden States Smarter Balanced tests. The state’s standardized tests track students’ knowledge of the Common Core State Standards for English and mathematics with three components designed to support teaching and learning throughout the year. The study looked at the state’s current eighth graders’ math scores over time and found that the students fell behind each year incrementally even before the onset of the COVID pandemic. Amid school closures and remote learnings last year, progress was completely halted as the eighth graders’ math scores averaged out at the same level that they did when they took the state tests two years earlier in sixth grade. However, it should be noted that the study missed a year of data, as the Smarter Balanced tests were canceled in the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic.
David Wakelyn, the founder of Union Square Learning, also viewed the analysis with a different outlook than the California Department of Education. The state only measures the percentage of students that meet or exceed standard math scores, and Wakelyn noted that even that number had shown a decline not seen in five years. Wakelyn also tracked the score of the students as the students advanced from third to eighth grade. Comparing the results with students in eighth grade that took the test in 2019 before the pandemic, the outlook was very bleak.
On 2021’s Better Balanced math scores, the average score of all groups in eighth grade was below standard excluding Asian students whose average scores actually increased. Black and Latino eighth-graders and low-income students’ math scores averaged way below standard levels. Their test scores lined up with the same levels that fourth and fifth graders are expected to meet.
California and nearly every other state have discussed a need to ramp up math efforts to make up lost time in learning. But not everyone thinks that the initiatives being implemented are enough to reverse the negative outlook. Rick Miller, the CEO of CORE Districts, said that the analysis highlighted “massive gaps” in education that existed long before the pandemic hit. Furthermore, he said state initiatives seemed to be a “one-time fix” that fails to address the real problem.
Failing test scores have been perpetually on the rise long before COVID struck. For the nation that claims to be the greatest in the world, failing math scores line up with the United State’s continued decline in world education rankings. And as the war on education rages on across party lines, the problem will likely continue.