Report: Fewer Elementary/Middle School Students Beginning School Year on Grade Level

Elementary schoolchildren wearing a protective face masks in the classroom. Education duri
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A report of the results of elementary and middle school students’ performance on a standardized assessment of reading and mathematics showed more students began the 2021 school year below grade level.

The report, “Understanding Student Learning: Insights from Fall 2021,” reflects data gathered when students took the i-Ready Assessment over the last two years.

According to Curriculum Associates, publisher of the i-Ready Assessment, the data’s key finding is that fewer elementary and middle school students began the 2021 academic year on grade level in reading and math than in the three years prior to the decision to close down schools and subsequent attempts to block their reopening by the teachers’ unions.

The report noted that, compared to historical averages:

Fewer second and third graders were at grade level in reading (six and five percentage points lower, respectively), and many more students performed below grade level (nine and seven percentage points higher, respectively).

The data also suggested students who were already struggling academically prior to the school shutdowns had the greatest difficulties once schools shut down.

Curriculum Associates particularly noted:

Schools serving majority Black and Latino students saw almost double the amount of unfinished learning in third grade reading and math as schools serving majority White students. The percentage of third grade students who are not on grade level in schools serving majority Black students grew by 17 percentage points, compared to six points in schools serving majority White students. In schools serving majority Latino students, the percentage of students who are behind grew by 14 percentage points.

“This report captures a snapshot of where students are in their own learning in order to be prepared to take on grade-level work and stay on track for high school graduation and college readiness,” said Tyrone Holmes, chief inclusion officer at Curriculum Associates.

He elaborated:

By breaking this data down by grade, subject, race, ethnicity, and income level, we can better understand the details of what we already know—that existing educational inequities have been exacerbated by the pandemic and some students are falling further behind. This data points to where we should be investing our resources—in students most in need of immediate support.

While many education bureaucrats blame inequities worsened by the pandemic for the achievement gap, public schools are currently awash in unprecedented federal funding through the Democrats’ coronavirus spending legislation.

Dr. Peggy Carr, of the National Center for Education Statistics, noted in 2019, the achievement gap has been with us for several decades:

In November, a measure of long-term trends in the assessment of 13-year-olds’ reading and math achievement revealed a statistically significant drop in scores over the past eight years, an outcome that points not to the pandemic but to the failure of the progressive reform known as the Common Core Standards.

Heritage Foundation Center for Education Policy researchers Nick Storz and John Schoof observed the statistically significant decline in the scores over the past eight years is the first in the 50-year history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ 2020 Long-Term Trend Assessment.

“Despite record-high education spending, these declines are the latest evidence casting significant doubt on Common Core’s learning standards and approach to student improvement,” the researchers noted at the Daily Signal.

While the test scores of nine-year-olds showed improvement for two decades, current scores were found to yield no change since the test was administered in 2012.

Reading scores, however, for 13-year-olds dropped by three points, and math scores for students of the same age fell by five points.

Though high-performing 13-year-olds showed little to no decline in math scores between 2012 and 2020, struggling students of the same age showed significant drops in scores over the eight-year period.

“Students scoring in lower testing percentiles experienced the most distressing declines,” Storz and Schoof observed. “The math score of the median student dropped by five points, the 25th percentile fell by eight points, and the 10th percentile fell by a shocking 12 points.”

What the data reveal is that “13-year-old students scoring in the 10th percentile dropped more than the equivalent of a full grade year in math capabilities below where they were in 2012,” the researchers noted. “Black students and students in the 25th percentile were close behind.”


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