What to make of the latest DC-area standardized test scores

What to make of the latest DC-area standardized test scores

In this week’s School Zone, a look at what standardized test scores reveal about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on learning.

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.

What can we learn from new DC-area test scores?

What it is: With D.C. Public Schools sharing its latest standardized test scores last week, there is now an up-to-date picture of the impact the coronavirus pandemic had on student achievement across the region.

As a new school year gets underway, D.C.-area school systems are working to implement new tutoring programs and other initiatives to help students catch up.

In Virginia, here students take Standard of Learning tests every year, several school systems saw improvements when compared to 2021; but in many cases, numbers were not at pre-pandemic levels.

In D.C., achievement gaps widened among the most at-risk students. Most D.C. students took the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, called the PARCC test. The city paused testing for two years because of the pandemic.

Maryland students participate in the state’s Comprehensive Assessment Program.

What it means: The trends in Virginia are largely on par with national test score trends, Laura Goren, director of research and education policy at the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, told me.

Goren said nationally, schools with high poverty rates saw the biggest drop in test scores during the pandemic. In some cases, declines were larger than those seen after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, she said.

In D.C., there were some schools that serve at-risk students that didn’t see achievement rates decline from 2019 to 2022, said Josh Boots, executive director of advocacy organization EmpowerK12.

A recent federal study found math and reading scores among 9-year-old children fell significantly during the first two years of the pandemic.

Regional snapshot: In D.C., data released last week revealed a widening gap among the city’s most vulnerable students. Math proficiency decreased 10% between 2019 and 2022 for at-risk students and the English language arts proficiency rate decreased 6% between 2019 and 2022 for at-risk students.

Boots told me schools that use the “Science of Reading” philosophy, which focuses on phonics and verbal reading skills, saw improvements in student growth data.

High-impact tutoring and other city initiatives, such as Saturday academies, have proved effective in helping students make up ground, Boots said.

In Maryland, 30% of fifth graders and 35% of eighth graders who took the science part of the Comprehensive Assessment Program test were proficient in the subject.

And in Virginia, scores varied. In Fairfax County, scores improved compared to 2021, but didn’t return to 2019 levels.

In Prince William County, scores remained below where they were pre-pandemic, but there were some gains in Math.

Arlington also saw improvement from 2021 to 2022, and Falls Church City Public Schools performed better in reading than it did before the pandemic.

Talking points: Of the fluctuation in Virginia scores, Goren said, “The State of Virginia really needs to make sure communities can afford to help the students who face these challenges reach their full potential through supports like intensive tutoring, that have been shown to help make up for lost learning time.”

Meanwhile, Boots, in D.C., said, “I think D.C. can still be the first urban jurisdiction where low-income students are competitive for whatever college and career that they want to be by the end of this decade. We just need to be a little bit bolder about doing it.”

By the numbers
Some data that caught my eye this week.

Teacher residents: Before the year started, Fairfax County Public Schools launched a teacher resident program that enabled teachers certified elsewhere to teach, while they finish getting certified in Virginia. This week, a school system spokesperson told me 107 people have been hired through the program.

What Scott’s Reading

  • 7 finalists named for Maryland Teacher of the Year [WTOP] 
  • School board candidates leave race after laughing at student [WTOP]
  • School board member, former teacher to run for open Virginia House seat [WTOP]
  • Huge Los Angeles Unified School district hit by cyberattack [WTOP]
  • One teacher transferred to a special education program after MCPS’s last-minute request [Bethesda Beat]
  • How federal COVID aid trickled down to Xavier’s classroom [The Washington Post]
  • Ease back-to-school anxiety with these healthy routines at home [NBC Washington]

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

More football fun: Both Miami and Maryland football play Saturday afternoon. We may head to the outdoor patio at Solace in Navy Yard to watch and catch up with some friends.