Student math scores take a hit after year of COVID remote learning

By: - December 28, 2021 6:35 am
A teacher wearing a mask cleans a desk

Data suggests that students who received lessons via virtual learning suffered slightly bigger drops in their assessments than those who stayed in schools. (Getty Images)

New Hampshire students who engaged in virtual learning saw a drop in mathematics assessment scores over the last academic school year, according to data released by the Department of Education Tuesday, in what officials said was an indication of pandemic-driven learning loss.

Across the state, proficiency in math dropped from 2019 to 2021, the assessment data says. Where 48 percent of students were measured as proficient or above proficient in math in 2019, only 38 percent of students had achieved a similar result in 2021, the data shows. 

English language arts and science proficiencies stayed relatively level. Fifty-two percent of students achieved proficient or above proficient scores in English in 2021, compared with 56 percent in 2019. The number of students who scored the same in science moved from 39 percent in 2019 to 37 percent in 2021.

The data represents the aggregate of the state’s annual assessment; each spring, students in grades three to eight are evaluated in English language arts and mathematics, and students in grades five, eight, and 11 are assessed in science. 

The department does not have data from spring 2020 because assessments were not carried out that year due to the onset of the pandemic. 

Additional data suggests that students who received lessons via virtual learning suffered slightly bigger drops in their assessments than those who stayed in schools. A report by the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment conducted for the state found that New Hampshire students who spent 60 to 80 percent of the 2020-2021 school year in remote learning saw the average school-by-school proficiency in mathematics drop by 29.6 percentage points.

Students whose schools stayed mostly open – spending between zero to 20 percent of their days in remote learning – saw a dip in mathematics proficiency of 12.4 percentage points.

“Both sets of analyses lead to the same conclusion: Higher amounts of virtual education are associated with lower rates of student learning. Decreases in learning are much larger in mathematics than in ELA,” the report, written by Damian Betebenner, states. 

Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut noted that the drop in proficiency mirrors similar declines in other states during the pandemic. And he noted that the two years of COVID-19 had accelerated what had already been a five-year, year-to-year decrease of math and reading scores in New Hampshire.

“It is clear and understandable that trauma from the pandemic continues to impact schools, students, and teachers. I remain incredibly proud and grateful to all of the educators who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to keep academics and the overall well-being of New Hampshire students a priority,” he said.

To help combat learning loss, Edelblut has promoted a state-private partnership with Prenda, a national company that operates “learning pods” that offer tutoring to students to replace school instruction times. The pods are intended to help students who have fallen behind regain lost ground before returning to school. On Dec. 8, the Executive Council approved a two-year extension of a $5.8 million federally funded contract with Prenda, which has attracted five school districts. 

Democrats have opposed the partnership, which pays Prenda $5,000 per student per year, arguing the take-up rate has been too low and that the federal money should be spent on direct assistance to public schools to address learning loss. 

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel.