Local students’ test scores drop significantly

Students in a Central Valley School District middle school learn math

SPOKANE, Wash. – The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction recently released school district-level data for the Smarter Balanced Assessment test students took in the fall.

It’s important to note that students took this test the fall of 2021. This test is usually done every spring. The test was also a different and shorter test than the one they normally take.

Students were tested on previous grade-level material, too. For example, students who are in fifth grade this year took a test with information from fourth grade.

Looking at numbers across eastern Washington, numbers dropped across the board compared to the 2018/2019 school year.

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In Spokane Public Schools, 56 percent of students testing in English and language arts met the standard for their grade level when taking the test in the spring of 2019. Compare that to the fall of 2021, that score dropped 10 percentage points to 46 percent.

The scores for math dropped even more. Of students tested, 28.2 percent met their grade-level standards in the fall of 2021 compared to 45.2 percent in 2019.

SPS, other districts, as well as the state superintendent’s office, are not surprised about the drop in test scores.

“We expected to see a dip in those results and we certainly did,” Chris Reykdal, the state superintendent, said in a press conference in early January.

Statewide, students scores dropped significantly as well.

In English and language arts, 47.7 percent of students met grade-level scores in the fall of 2021. In 2019, that number was at 59.6 percent.

In math, there was about an 18 percent drop from 2019 at 48.9 percent to 30.4 percent in the fall.

Students also took this test about a month or so after they came back from the summer. The school district says it takes some time for them to get back into the groove of things.

“We’re not really surprised. I can’t imagine going through the last two years we’ve been going through as a school district and as a world that we would never see the impact on our students and families,” said Scott Kerwien, the executive director of student success at SPS.

While lower test scores sound alarming, Kerwien said students are constantly tested and their knowledge is measured throughout the year. The SBA test is only one of many.

“We’ve been leveraging other resources. Like we use Lexia and DreamBox, which is just software to support English language arts and literacy. Then math, specifically at the elementary level, we’ve been really encouraged to see student growth there. Academically, we can see that students are progressing, in a quote-unquote normal year,” Kerwien said.

Students will take the SBAC test again this spring, and both Kerwien and the state superintendent say that will be a better measurement of where learning is at.

The Central Valley School District is saying the same thing as Kerwien.

CVSD is seeing the same drop in SBAC test scores as SPS and others across the state.

In spring of 2019, 64.5 percent of students met English, language arts test standards. It dropped to 51.4 percent in 2021. In math, an even bigger drop. 53.4 percent of students met grade-level standards in 2019. In 2021, it dropped to 32.4 percent.

“We’re very concerned about it, but at the same time, I don’t think it should reflect the effort and success our students and or our staff have made in this very trying time,” said Tim Nootenboom, the associate superintendent for learning and teaching with CVSD.

Nootenboom says SBAC scores are important to look at, but also says it is a “lagging indicator.”

“It’s taking it and we look backwards to how we did. I think from that, we can learn and make those necessary adjustments,” he said.

However, he also added that not all students test well, so parents shouldn’t dwell on the scores.

“Your child has done leaps and bounds of achievement and progress in the school. Don’t let this one test deflate the progress they made. Understand that there are other indicators of success and this is just one of many we look at when we look at the progression of students in our school system,” Nootenboom said.

Districts will continue to work to bridge the gap the pandemic created.

Cindy Sothen, the director of learning recovery at CVSD, says they’ll continue looking at local assessments to see where students are at learning-wise.

“It’s more real-time data. It speaks to what we’re doing in the classroom more at a smaller scale than the larger Smarter Balance,” Sothen said.

The district plans to have a learning recovery meeting at the end of the month to discuss the SBAC scores as well as other measurements. CVSD is also in the process of adopting a new math curriculum, something they started before the pandemic.

As for helping students continue to grow, Sothen says it’s important to build relationships with students and make sure teachers focus on recovery for students on an individual basis.

To check out your local school district’s scores, click here.

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