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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Reflecting statewide trends, test scores dropped dramatically in Spokane County districts during pandemic

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 16, 2022

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

Many children across Spokane County struggled with learning during the pandemic, no matter their family’s wealth or where they went to school.

Statewide tests administered last fall were published last weekend by the Washington State superintendent’s office, and they showed broad declines in English and math from the last pre-COVID tests taken in 2019.

However, in a surprise to some, those drops were largely unaffected by socio-economic factors or whether students were allowed inside school buildings for some in-person school days or strictly sitting at home behind a computer.

Nearly all districts experienced double-digit percentage declines, from the 2019 results, with some falling more than 20 percentage points.

In the area’s largest district, Spokane Public Schools, 46% of all students met state standards in English, down from 56% in the spring of 2019. As in many districts, the drop was even sharper in math, from a 45% pass rate in 2019 to 28.2% last fall.

Two other large districts, Central Valley and Mead, saw declines of 21 percentage points in math.

However, the numbers come with several caveats: fewer students took the test, fewer questions were asked, the language arts test did not measure students’ writing or speaking skills, and the math portion did not require students to explain their work.

Test scores fell dramatically from 2019 to 2021 in nearly all Spokane County school districts. (Molly Quinn/The Spokesman-Review)
Test scores fell dramatically from 2019 to 2021 in nearly all Spokane County school districts. (Molly Quinn/The Spokesman-Review)

Grade-level assessment was identified by students’ prior grade level. For example, a current fifth-grade student took the fourth-grade SBA, which they would have taken in the spring of 2021 if it had been offered. And unlike previous Smarter Balanced Assessments, this one was administered in the fall, following the typical summer learning regression.

“With the timing, participation rates and unprecedented circumstances that our families have had to endure, we are not surprised by the state results,” Mead Superintendent Shawn Woodward said.

Individual test results will be released in a few weeks, according to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction website.

As a whole, Spokane students lost less ground than the rest of the state, and they achieved proficiency levels above the statewide average on 10 of the 13 content and grade level scores.

Citing the constraints of the pandemic, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal has downplayed the importance of the standardized tests, arguing that they don’t offer a complete picture of student growth.

“There’s so much we don’t test that’s been enhanced so never use a standardized exam to determine whether or not we’re better or worse,” Reykdal reportedly said last week. “What it does indicate though is where we would expect our state of education to be had there not been a pandemic.”

Reykdal acknowledged that students “probably didn’t make as much progress as historically observed,” but reinforced the importance of social-emotional supports: “mental health, school psychologists, nurses, social workers.”

Given the variables, the best apples-to-apples comparison is that among districts. Some held the line on learning loss better than others. Results also varied among schools in the same district.

In Spokane, for example, Shadle Park High School showed a major decline in both subjects. In the spring of 2019, about 69% of students there met the state standard in English. Last fall, only 38% did so.

Math proficiency at Shadle dropped from 34.5% to 11.5%.

Meanwhile, at Rogers, the drop was 18 percentage points in English and 11 percentage points in math.

Results were mixed among districts that used a hybrid learning model during the 2020-21 school year. Mead saw the biggest overall decline in the county – 15 percentage points in English and 21 in math – while Riverside lost 13% in English and gained 2% in math.

Socio-economic levels didn’t appear to be a major factor in the degree of decline. Among Spokane middle schools, Sacajawea dropped 11 percentage points in language arts and 20 percentage points in math. Those were the biggest drops in Spokane Public Schools; meanwhile, Shaw held its decline to single digits in both subjects.

Declines varied widely among elementary schools as well, with some schools dropping 20 percentage points and others holding the loss to single digits. Again, there appeared to be little correlation between socio-economic factors and test score declines.

The highest-testing elementary schools in 2019 – Wilson, Hutton, Moran Prairie, Indian Trail and Jefferson – averaged a loss of 12 percentage points.

Those with the lowest scores in 2019 – Stevens, Lidgerwood, Logan, Arlington and Holmes – fell an average of 11 points. However, those declines came from a lower base; for example, English proficiency at Holmes fell from 35% to 25% – a true decline of 30%.

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