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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

Test scores across Washington, including Spokane area, show decline from prior to pandemic

By Jim Allen For The Spokesman-Review

Results are in from statewide K-12 comprehensive tests taken last spring, and the report is mixed.

The good news for students, families and teachers is that scores are up, albeit slightly, from last fall.

The not-so-good news is that scores are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

Bottom line: Schools and their students face a long climb to regain the learning losses caused by the pandemic.

In the Spokane area, local educators took an optimistic view of the data.

“We are encouraged by the growth shown in the past year, and we know that there is more work to do to return to and surpass pre-pandemic growth and achievement levels,” said Shawn Woodward, superintendent at the Mead School District.

“We are committed to closing the gaps created over the past two years and see this as a learning opportunity for our teaching staff and students as we move forward,” Marla Nunberg, director of communications for the Central Valley School District, said Wednesday.

Statewide, about 38% of students reached grade-level standards in math, and 51% did so in English. That’s a seven-point increase in math, and a three-point boost in English compared to scores from the fall of 2021.

In the last pre-pandemic Smarter Balanced Assessment, administered in the spring of 2019, about 49% of students met standards in math and about 60% did so in language arts.

For the most part, those numbers hold true across the state, with double-digit percentage decreases in almost every district.

Pre-pandemic, 56% of students in Spokane Public Schools met grade standards in English and 45.2% did so in math.

Those numbers dropped to 46% in English and 28.2% in math, in the tests administered last fall. Spring assessments stood at 47.4% in English and 34.2% in math.

That pattern was consistent throughout Spokane County, with most districts seeing double-digit percentage drops last fall and a slight increase last spring.

At Spokane Public Schools, communications director Sandra Jarrard noted that “SPS results are consistent with state-wide trends when compared with schools and districts with similar demographics.”

Each year, the state administers Smarter Balanced Assessments to students in grades three through eight, plus 10th grade. A passing score isn’t required for graduation.

Data also indicates that students in schools in lower-income neighborhoods struggled along with students in schools situated in higher-income neighborhoods.

At Garry Middle School in northeast Spokane, passing rates for English declined from 35% in 2019 to 29% last spring; at Sacajawea Middle School on the South Hill, they fell from 77% to 70%.

Holmes Elementary School in north Spokane saw only a slight decline in English, from 35% in 2019 to 34% this year, while Wilson pass rates fell from 85% to 77%.

In a pattern seen at most school districts, math scores fell more steeply than those in English.

Data released last month by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that students of color appeared to suffer disproportionate learning losses. State-level data from NAEP is not yet available.

By comparison, 62.7% of students in Seattle Public Schools met state standards in English and 51.6% of students met standards in math.

The value of standardized tests has been the subject of debate. Earlier this month, state superintendent Chris Reykdal told the Seattle Times that the tests don’t provide an accurate picture of what happens in individual schools and classrooms.

“I’m just never going to believe that this assessment that we use gives families good information nor educators good information,” he said.

Jarrard noted Wednesday that “the (assessment) is based on student proficiency on one specific day of a 180-day school year, and should be carefully considered along with other measures of academic performance.”

“One metric does not have the capacity to demonstrate a holistic understanding of performance,” Jarrard said.

Nunberg said the test scores “provide us with a relatively clear estimate of what we have accomplished. We clearly have more work to do in the area of English Language Arts (ELA) and math, so examining these results and using our local and ongoing district assessment data will help us identify the specific topical areas we need to bolster with academic support.”

Nunberg also promised that the district “will be doing a deep dive into each assessment. We have also made curricular adoptions in ELA and mathematics a top priority and have begun implementing a new (kindergarten through fifth grade and sixth- through eighth-grade) math curriculum adoption this year.”

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