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Vt. ed officials say poor standardized scores a pandemic anomaly

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 6:11 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Standardized test results from this spring are in and they show drops across the board from pre-pandemic levels. An expert we spoke with says the declines are surely COVID-related and prove students need to be in the classroom.

“The learning environment was just not conducive to high performance in any way,” said Ellen Baker, the University of Vermont’s educator licensure program director. She says the pandemic has been traumatizing for students and impacted learning. “People cannot be available to learn if they are traumatized.”

That appears to be reflected in statewide standardized testing scores released by the Vermont Agency of Education. They show that students who participated in the tests last spring did not do as well as usual. When comparing 2019 pre-pandemic SBAC scores against 2021, math proficiency saw double-digit declines. For third grade, scores dropped from 52% to 41%; Fifth grade dropped from 42% to 30%; and 8th grade from 40% to 31%.

When it comes to English, the gaps are smaller but still prevalent. Third grade dropped from 50% to 42%; Fifth grade from 56% to 49%: and 8th grade from 53% to 51%.

Baker says there are multiple pandemic factors behind the lower scores including online learning, a lack of peer interaction, and students’ home life. “It does align and help us to understand the scores based on the fact that students have not been in school -- for some of them -- a year.,” she said.

Another factor from the pandemic is attendance. “If families were unable to get their kids to sit in front of the computer to do their work, they were just missing out and there was nothing we could do as an educational system,” Baker said.

State education officials say they are not considering the latest numbers a decrease and do not want to compare 2021 scores to other years. “The context for last year was anything but typical,” said Wendy Geller, AOE’s data management and analysis division director. She says these tests are designed for typical instruction -- unlike what students received last year.

Scores have fluctuated over the years, but as students prepare for testing again in the spring, does the state foresee scores improving? “I don’t think we can predict right now what we are likely to see in this next test administration,” Geller said.

Baker’s views are similar, especially as schools continue to go remote as cases pop up. “The impact of the pandemic is far from over,” she said.

The state is releasing more data in the upcoming months once they have analyzed the sample of students who took part in the tests. Meanwhile, schools are already preparing for the new standardized tests in the spring.

Historical scores 2016-2019
Pandemic scores 2021
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