COVID-era test scores uneven among Delaware schools, student groups
Results are in from the statewide student learning assessments administered this past school year—a year altered considerably by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For grades 3-8, around 40% of students scored proficient in English Language Arts and just about a quarter scored proficient in Math, according to statewide assessment results for the 2020-21 school year the Delaware Department of Education (DOE) released Tuesday.
High schoolers who took the SAT did a little better—with nearly half proficient in Evidence-based Reading and Writing and just 28% proficient in Math.
The scores released Tuesday offer the first comprehensive look at learning during the pandemic, as the U.S. Department of Education waived student assessment requirements in the 2019-2020 school year. State officials say Delaware was required to administer all tests during the 2020-21 school year.
State education officials say to take the scores with a grain of salt, since pandemic-related disruptions meant fewer students took the tests than usual. DOE says 71% of eligible students took the SAT and 60% took English Language Arts and Math assessments.
"The 2020-21 school year was different from any other since many of our students were learning remotely for part or all of the academic year," Secretary of Education Susan Bunting said in a statement Tuesday. "While direct comparisons with assessment data from previous years may not be appropriate because of this, the data provides an important temperature check that allows our schools to better track and address both short- and long-term learning needs."
Theresa Bennett, who heads DOE’s Office of Assessment, says educators can use the scores to pinpoint areas where they need to focus.
“We recommend that they use the 2021 results in combination with other data sources as a baseline for evaluating their school recovery needs and accelerating learning plans for their students,” she told reporters Monday.
DOE says families got their student reports in the mail last month, and educators saw the results a few weeks after the tests were administered.
English Language Learners, low-income students and students with disabilities consistently scored far below the state average—with fewer than 5% of English Language Learners testing as “proficient” in some categories.
The scores also reveal racial disparities—with Hispanic and African-American students consistently scoring below the state average, and white and Asian students scoring above it.
Before reviewing the results himself, Gov. John Carney said these disparities follow a longstanding pattern.
“The issue of disparities and differences among various groups in the scores has been a historical one going back to when we first started testing and measuring achievement levels,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s been a focus of our administration, primarily through Opportunity Funding, to provide districts with additional funding directed specifically at students from low-income backgrounds and English Language Learners.”
Carney says he expected the scores to reveal the challenges of remote and hybrid learning.
“I know what to expect, which is lost learning which clearly occurred for all students during the last year and half,” he said.
The scores and participation rates vary widely by school.
For example, McKean High School, where 55% of students took the SAT, and Howard Vo-Tech, where just 26% of students took it, both saw fewer than 5% of students test proficient in SAT Math. Middletown High School, with a 71% participation rate, and Cab Calloway, with 98% participation, achieved SAT Math proficiency scores above 40%.
English Language Arts scores for students grades 3-5 ranged from 21% proficient across the Laurel School District, where three-quarters of students took the test, to 58% proficient across the Cape Henlopen School District, where 71% participated.
Some of the widest swings were among charter schools.
For example, fewer than 5% of students at Great Oaks and Positive Outcomes charter schools tested proficient in SAT Math, while 89% did so at the Charter School of Wilmington. DOE says 98% of students at the Charter School of Wilmington took the test, compared to 85% at Great Oaks and 76% at Positive Outcomes.
Fewer than 5% of students in grades 3-5 tested proficient in English Language Arts at Thomas A. Edison and Gateway Lab charter schools, where 7% and 62% of students participated respectively. That’s compared to 66% proficient at Newark Charter, where 38% of students took the test.
Full test results are available on the state’s Open Data Portal.