National test shows SC students fell behind during pandemic but making strides in reading

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Published: Oct. 24, 2022 at 8:20 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - New nationwide test scores give a better idea of the effect pandemic learning loss has had on students.

On Monday, scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, were released, with this year marking the first time students had taken the assessment since the pandemic began.

Across the national average, scores have dropped from 2019, the last time the test had been administered to fourth and eighth grade students.

South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said while they expected scores would fall because of pandemic disruptions and closures, the decrease is still concerning.

“While our state maintained its performance overall as the nation showed significant decline, these results confirm there is still much work to do. We commend the work of educators to help students recover and reaffirm commitments to double down on efforts that will address the needs of all students and prepare them for college, career, and citizenship,” Spearman said in a statement.

Federal law requires a representative sample of students from each state to take the assessment, with more than 3,000 students in each fourth and eighth grade taking it this spring.

As opposed to South Carolina-specific assessments, the Nation’s Report Card provides an opportunity to compare the state’s students to their peers around the country and in past years.

For fourth-graders, South Carolina’s scores indicate less learning loss than the average American student.

Fourth-grade reading scores in the state were the same as they were in 2019, with the national average falling three points. While fourth-grade math scores were down three points in South Carolina, the decline was still less than the average loss among states of five points.

Among eighth-graders, South Carolina students showed larger losses than the national average in reading — dropping five points from 2019 compared to the average of three — while the biggest losses from before the pandemic came in eighth-grade math in both the state — 7 points — and the nation — 8 points.

Head-to-head, South Carolina students in 2022 scored lower than the national average in eighth-grade math and reading and fourth-grade math while scoring the same as the average in fourth-grade reading.

Patrick Kelly, a high school teacher in Richland County who also sits on the governing board that sets policy for the Nation’s Report Card, said South Carolina has typically trailed the national averages in this assessment. But he said the gap is closing in areas like fourth-grade reading, attributing it to the emphasis the state has put on childhood literacy in the last several years.

“We’re in the midst of what the governor has rightly declared a generational student mental health crisis. Our students have experienced disrupted instruction for reasons beyond the pandemic over the last two years. Just three weeks ago, students across the state were disrupted for a day to up to three days because of a wave of active-shooter hoax calls into schools,” Kelly said. “When we see scores like this, it does have to be a cause for concern, but we can’t discount the context within which those scores are occurring because if we do, then the kinds of remedies that we try to implement will be misaligned to the reality of where students are at.”

The latest results come the same day South Carolina’s two-week early voting period opens ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. With Spearman not seeking re-election, the state superintendent of education job is up for grabs.

Democrat Lisa Ellis, a teacher and founder of the educator advocacy group SC for Ed, said in a statement, “At base, standardized testing is not necessarily the strongest measure of student success and SC curriculum. Because students fell behind during the pandemic, it is critical that we have the best, most accurate measure of students so that we can better design curriculum and support mechanisms for them to improve. Our fourth graders, for instance, show little significant difference in math scores between 2019 and 2022. We need to analyze testing and its gaps to better understand what was done well and what can be improved. That being said, the best way we can ensure our students improve from the pandemic and other shortfalls is to have enough qualified teachers in every South Carolina classroom, fund and train more teacher aides, and better fund our schools to allow for smaller class sizes and more student attention.”

Ellis faces Republican Ellen Weaver, president, and CEO of the conservative think tank Palmetto Promise Institute and former chair of the state’s Education Oversight Committee, on the ballot.

In a statement, Weaver said, “It’s clear from our Nation’s Report Card scores that long-term shutdowns championed by far-left leaders like my opponent did great damage to students. I’m grateful for our educators on the frontline who are fighting to close the opportunity gaps that existed here in SC prior to COVID. We need strong, proven leadership that can deliver on the promise to cut red tape and get back to the basic skills we know our students need to succeed.”

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