Student test scores demand concern, then action

Recent reports about dismal K-12 test scores should raise alarm in our business community.

Nationwide, elementary school math and reading scores fell to levels unseen in 32 years, according to the recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, known as the “nation’s report card.”

Average scores for 9-year-old students in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020.

The scores weren’t better in our Tri-City schools.

The results of the first post-pandemic standardized testing reveal that fewer than one in five 10th-graders in the greater Tri-Cities are meeting math standards. In Franklin County, the rate drops to one in seven, according to data from Benton-Franklin Trends.

Prior to the pandemic, fewer than one in three 10th-graders in Benton and Franklin counties were able to meet or exceed state math standards. This is a drop of almost 13 percentage points in two years and represents the lowest share of students meeting math standards since the state moved to the common core-based SBA computerized test.

Patrick Jones, executive director for Eastern Washington University’s Institute for Public Policy & Economic Analysis, discusses the data in a column in this month’s Journal of Business, “The pandemic was not kind to student learning.”

A recent study, “The Economic Impacts of Learning Losses,” suggests a less skilled work force could lead to lower rates of national economic growth. A loss of one-third of a year in effective learning could lower a country’s GDP by an average of 1.5% over the remainder of the century, according to the report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

We realize test scores don’t and can’t reveal a complete picture of students’ academic or future success. But they can point out trends.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced students into remote-learning classrooms with little notice. The shift to online learning wasn’t a smooth or easy transition for students, teachers, or parents. As more data emerges, we also should be concerned about the emotional toll the pandemic took on our young people.

We know the Tri-Cities has many passionate teachers and administrators, and we hope the return to school this fall brings a renewed passion and focus on what’s happening in the classroom. Reversing the pandemic’s damage won’t happen overnight but we hope strides can be made to help students catch up.

There’s no time to waste.

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