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Data: Pandemic caused severe drop-off in learning

Dept. of Education releases assessment figures for difficult pandemic learning year

Photo by Steven Allen Adams MEETING — The West Virginia Board of Education listens as Vaughn Rhudy, pictured at right, director of assessment in the Office of Teaching and Learning for the Department of Education, presents data on student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CHARLESTON — The back and forth between in-person learning and remote learning last year during the COVID-19 pandemic caused a severe drop-off in learning according to data released Wednesday by the West Virginia Department of Education.

Members of the West Virginia Board of Education heard a report Wednesday during their monthly meeting on the 2021 state summative assessment results.

According to the report for grades 3-8 and 11th grade, 28 percent of students were proficient in math at the end of the school year last year, an 11-point drop from 39 percent in 2019. For English and Language Arts (ELA), 40 percent were proficient last year – a 6-point drop from 46 percent in 2019. In Science which is tested in grades 5, 8, and 11, 27 percent were proficient last year – a 6-point drop from 33 percent in 2019.

Vaughn Rhudy, director of assessment in the Office of Teaching and Learning for the Department of Education, said the state was able to administer assessments to more than 91 percent of students last year who were enrolled for a full academic year, or at least 135 non-consecutive days.

“We included the 2019 percent proficient in the graphs … simply to provide a frame of reference for you,” Rhudy said.

“I want to applaud our districts and our schools because of the effort they put forth in trying to encourage as many students as possible to come forward and take the tests so that we could get information not only to provide for the teachers and the schools to use, but also the parents would know.”

The report combines the results of the West Virginia General Summative Assessment for grades 3-8, the SAT School Day assessment for 11th grade, and the West Virginia Alternative Summative Assessment for grade 3-8 and 11th grade. The report covers the 2020-2021 school year and compares that data to test results for the 2018-2019 school year

The state received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education on testing during the 2019-2020 school year when school was shut down for in-person learning starting in March 2020 through the remainder of that school year.

State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch told board members that the results should be viewed as a snapshot into the first full pandemic school year. Particularly in the first part of the 2020-2021 school year, schools switched often between in-person learning, remote learning when COVID-19 cases increased in counties, and a blend of both models. Burch said more than 50,000 students never saw the inside of a classroom, instead opting for virtual learning.

“I just want to put into context as these are released today … that they do have to be part of a bigger puzzle that we’re looking at,” Burch said. “Of course, we have to look at the learning loss of the gap. We need a direction, and we need to learn what the learning loss was, and it’s going to be nationwide. It’s not going to be just in West Virginia.”

Besides the inconsistent learning environment, Burch said the pandemic affected students in other ways. The number of children in the state’s foster care system jumped to some of its highest numbers. Child Protective Service referral rates increased. Opioid overdose deaths spiked. Some families didn’t have reliable access to internet for remote learning. Other students left the school system altogether.

“We want the students to be successful, but often times their home lives just put so many challenges in,” Burch said. “We’re not trying to catch up on anything lost. What we’re trying to do is offer opportunities and give them that accelerated, personalized learning, because what they really missed was time with their teachers.”

Burch hinted last week that the poor assessment results were the driving force in keeping students in school this school year as much as possible. The Department of Education released its school recovery and guidance plan last Wednesday.

Decisions on whether to stay open or go to remote learning during instances of high virus transmission will be left up to county superintendents and county health departments, though any days lost will have to be made up. Instead of quarantining entire classrooms, schools, and sports teams, vaccinated students or students wearing face masks will no longer have to quarantine if a student or teacher has a COVID-19 infection.

Virtual school will still be an option for parents concerned about having their children in school buildings. But unless a county already offers virtual learning for Kindergarten through fifth grade, virtual learning will only be available for sixth grade and up. County superintendents and county health officials will make decisions regarding masks.

Emphasis will be on encouraging teachers, staff, and eligible students to be vaccinated. The Department of Education launched the “I Got Vaxxed” contest to see what schools can get the most of their students and staff vaccinated. Officials will pick the top 12 schools on Oct. 1 and award each school a $50,000 grant.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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