First comprehensive data in two years shows big academic setbacks for California students

California Kindergarten to Grade 12 students experienced significant academic setbacks in the 2020-21 primarily distance learning school year, showing increasing achievement gaps, late progress in math and English, an increase in chronic absenteeism and a slight drop in the statewide graduation rate, according to data released Friday by the California Department of Education.

The data provides the most comprehensive picture to date of the situation for California students during the pandemic. It includes standardized test scores for Grades 3 through 8 and High School students, as well as information on attendance, discipline statistics, and graduation rates.

The results show that about half of all California students tested did not meet state standards in English and about two-thirds did not meet standards in math. Scores for black, Latino, and economically disadvantaged students were significantly lower, with over 60% failing to meet English standards and around 80% not meeting math standards.

In the English language arts, the rate of under-performing students was significantly higher in the early years compared to later years, indicating that younger students may only be struggling with literacy skills. . For example, about 60% of third and fourth graders did not meet standards in English, compared to about 40% of eleven students.

Test scores are the first statewide student achievement scores available after testing was canceled in the 2019-20 school year, when the pandemic forced schools to close in March 2020 .

Some educators, parents and teachers’ unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, strongly opposed the administration of standardized tests last spring, saying students and families did not need the extra stress and that the results would not be reliable. Others, however, have stressed the importance of capturing assessment data to assess student learning, and the State Board of Education voted last February against the federal government’s request for a waiver to suspend student learning. standardized tests compulsory for the second consecutive year.

School districts were given a great deal of leeway to accommodate the fact that most students still did not attend school in person – shortened versions of statewide tests were administered and districts were introduced. been allowed to give their own local ratings, rather than using statewide testing.

As a result, less than a quarter of students took statewide English and math tests, a rate well below typical years, where a large majority of students take the tests. The circumstances of the test make year-to-year comparisons difficult.

In an effort to offer a comparison to previous years, state officials analyzed the test scores of the same cohort of students year after year. These results show that although the students progressed, it was at a slower pace than in previous years.

State officials acknowledged that the numbers underscore the difficulties children face in distance learning.

“The challenges students and educators faced during the pandemic were multidimensional and disruptive to learning and mental health,” State Superintendent of Public Education Tony Thurmond said in a press release. “Our goal now is to advance all students. “

The four-year graduation rate fell from 84.2% in 2019-2020 to 83.6% last year. Although the decline was small, it was the second year of small declines after years of sustained growth. The biggest drop is among black students, whose graduation rate fell from 76.8% in 2019-2020 to 72.5% last year.

Chronic absenteeism rates, where students are absent for at least 10% of school days, also fell from around 12% to 14%. The increases were even larger for the most vulnerable students, including black, Latino, Native American, foster and homeless youth, migrant students and English learners.

The data adds to a significant body of evidence of the harms the pandemic and school closings have on student success. Nationally, studies have repeatedly shown that the most vulnerable students suffer the greatest setbacks.

This fall, an LA Times analysis of unified data from Los Angeles found a significant drop in assessment scores or below grade in key areas of learning, with Black, Latino and other vulnerable students being especially vulnerable. affected.

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