Benton-Franklin Trends Blog

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Trends Update List

Blog Feature: Smarter Balance Assessment (SBA) Scores in Benton-Franklin Counties

Student Math Scores Drop to Record Low Due to Pandemic

Not surprisingly, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic were felt throughout K-12 education as teachers and students adjusted to shutdowns, shifted to online modalities, and endured disruptions in traditional classroom settings due to meet evolving health protocols. What might be surprising, however, is the extent to which student test scores fell.

The results of the first post-pandemic standardized testing reveal that fewer than one in five 10th graders in the greater Tri-Cities are currently meeting math standards! In Franklin County alone, the rate drops to one in seven! Benton Franklin Trends 4.3.1 shows the share of students meeting math standards as measured by the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). Prior to the pandemic, the rate was fewer than one in three 10th graders in the combined counties were able to meet or exceed state math standards. This is a drop of almost 13 percentage points in just two years and represents the lowest share of students meeting math standards since the state moved to the common core based SBA computerized assessment.  

The decline in math assessment scores is not unique to the county, but rather was felt across the state and the nation as well. Across the state of Washington, the passing rate for 10th grade students fell from 50% to 25% -- still above the county rate.

Lower SBA math scores reflect less preparedness for the next sequence in math instruction. Simply put, students are less prepared when moving on to the next level math class. And this does not imply that either teachers or students are to blame. To the contrary, educators and learners showed incredible resiliency in their ability to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. However, when students are not exhibiting core competencies in math it can cause much frustration.

Even though a student passed all of the HS math requirements, this does not guarantee readiness for college math. As a result of the pandemic, recent high school graduates entering higher education institutions are more likely to struggle with college math curricula. Parents who often share in the financial burden of their college students are also likely to be frustrated. And college faculty are likely to be frustrated because they have to simultaneously provide more remedial work and also ensure that their students can advance to the next course in the sequence.

To be fair, academic slide is not new. Every fall, teachers lament the drop in learning that occurs over summer breaks. In fact, some of the significant drop in SBA test scores could be attributed to the assessments being delivered in fall rather than spring of 2021. However, the effects of extended school closures, partial / modified re-openings and the switch to online learning as well as the emotional and social toll of the pandemic are likely the largest factors contributing to the decline in the share of students meeting math standards.

And even though schools are packed with talented educators and students have shown themselves to be extremely resilient, there can be costs if learning losses are not recovered. A recent study published by the OECD on The Economic Impacts of Learning Losses suggest that 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.