August 31, 2021

The Pandemic Harmed Kids’ Learning: 3 Important Next Steps

By Josh Crosson

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Education released the reading, math, and science results from the 2021 Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs)—the only state assessments aligned to Minnesota’s academic standards. This was the first time we had data over the past two years, and it affirmed what we had already anticipated was coming: existing gaps got worse during COVID-19

Overall, only 44% of students are proficient in math, down from 55% in 2019 when the MCAs were last administered. In reading, 52% were proficient, down from 59% in 2019. Reading proficiency among Black students and Latino Students dropped by 12% and 19%, respectively. Indigenous students saw the biggest decline as their reading scores dropped by a whopping 24% from 2019. (Read here for more information between percent and percentage points).

We see similar declines for students from other underserved communities. For example, students with disabilities, homeless students, students from low-income families all saw significant decreases. Still, English Learners saw one of the most drastic drops in the state, with a nearly 40% drop in reading from 2019.

The story is more dire for math. Only 17% of Indigenous and Black students, 20% of Latino students, about 40% of Asian and multiracial students, and about half of white students met math benchmarks. For students with disabilities and low-income students, only one-fifth of students met math benchmarks. The situation is more grim for English Learners and homeless students, with only 8% of English Learners and 11% of homeless students proficient in math—a 52% and 37% decrease, respectively. This follows national trends, which have found that there were more steep declines in math achievement. 

Opting Out

We need meaningful data that allows us to compare what’s happening across Minnesota’s schools and diverse student groups to build clear, actionable, student-centered plans. Last fall, extensive conversations were held between the Federal Department of Education, States, and test administrators—like Pearson—regarding at-home testing options to capture needed data without jeopardizing the health of students and families. But despite federal permission for States to pursue virtual testing and use of the data, MDE rejected proposals to administer tests remotely, which not only jeopardized the health of students and families but skewed the data by making it more difficult for students to be assessed. 

Despite significant obstacles, nearly 80% of students showed up to take their MCAs. A disproportionate number of students of color and low-income students, however, opted out of the MCAs, mostly due to COVID-19 related complications. Moreover, given the pre-pandemic achievement gaps along lines of race and socioeconomic status, the true impacts of the pandemic may be even more pronounced. 

So What Now? 

Pandemic-related education disruptions led to declines in student academic proficiency, but our disparities are not new. Going back to business as usual will not be enough, and it’s time that we choose a different strategy. We need to collectively agree that stemming learning loss—particularly for our most historically underserved and under-resourced students—should be our top priority and that good data is a critical tool for better schools and just communities.

1. Let districts know what your kids need.

There’s an influx of dollars from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) that will be distributed to schools. Schools have until October 1 to submit plans to MDE on how they will spend their money. Many schools will need the pressure from families and community leaders to use the new funding equitably and address the needs of their students. We urge you to contact your child’s district or charter school to let them know what support your child needs to be successful. 

2. Use the data.

As districts continue to work on ARP plans and decide how they will use their money, it’s critical that they utilize their students’ reading and math MCA achievement data to inform their decision-making. These six research-based best practices can serve as a clear and validated guide for districts to use to address lost learning.

3. Get the data in faster.

Although preliminary MCA results are available almost immediately and highly accurate, the data is released much too late for educators and families to make as actionable as possible. Making the data public in days instead of months is possible and allows parents to make informed decisions and educators to plan. For years, EdAllies has been advocating for a bill that would make the results available sooner. Let us know if you want to stay updated on this issue.