A sharp drop in math and reading proficiency among New Hampshire students last year can be attributed to pandemic-related learning loss, according to education commissioner Frank Edelblut. But in some districts, the racial disparities in the scores shows the pandemic only exacerbated already-existing inequalities.

Early disaggregated data from New Hampshire Statewide Assessment System and SAT tests administered to public and charter school students in the spring show that the state went from having 48% of students ranked “proficient and above” in math to 32% since they were last tested in spring 2019, and percentage of students proficient in reading has dropped from 56% to 52%. But in some school districts, particularly urban districts like Nashua and Manchester where proficiency already tends to be lower than the statewide average, the 2021 drop was much greater.

Concord has seen a dramatic decline in math and reading proficiency among students district-wide since the 2018-2019 school year, when testing was last conducted. In Concord the number of students ranked proficient or above dropped from 47% in spring 2019 to 27% in spring 2021. For reading scores, the number of students proficient and above decreased from 60% in spring 2019 to 47% in spring 2021. The number of Concord students proficient and above in science dropped from 41% to 34%.

Concord superintendent Kathleen Murphy attributes Concord’s decline to the disruption in learning caused by the pandemic and the fact that some students struggled with remote learning and some had unreliable access to internet at home. Murphy added that she disagreed with the Department of Education’s decision to administer standardized assessments tests after the difficult pandemic year.

“The fact that we were unable to sustain consistent five-days-a-week, seven-hours-a-day instruction certainly impacted our students,” Murphy said. “It’s obvious, you can see that in the scores. We knew back in the spring that we were going to have significant work ahead of us in order to make up for lost time.”

Nearby school districts saw similar declines in the past two years, with Merrimack Valley School District dropping from 43% proficient in math in spring 2019 to 28% in spring 2021. In reading, the district dropped from 51% MV students proficient in spring 2019 to 39% proficient in spring 2021.

In Hopkinton School District, math scores dropped from 61% proficient to 45% proficient, and the reading scores dropped from 72% proficient to 65% proficient.

In the cities, Manchester’s math proficiency dropped from 24% to 14% and in Nashua, math proficiency dropped 39% to 28%.

Edelblut says the numbers need to be considered in the context of 2021’s test participation rate, which is lower than usual. While Edelblut says New Hampshire assessments normally get 95% participation or higher, the 2021 assessments has a participation rate of about 82%.

“It is a reliable and valid assessment we provided, but we only provided it to 82% of students, so you have to be careful as to how that data is compared,” Edelblut said. “You have to look carefully at who took it and who didn’t so you are making a good apples-to-apples comparison.”

In Concord, the average participation rate was about 82% for math and reading tests. Murphy said it was lower than usual because some remote-only students chose not to come in to school to take the assessment test last spring.

While not a new trend, racial disparities remain very apparent in Concord’s most recent test results. According to the spring 2021 data, just 12% of Black Concord students district-wide are proficient in math compared to 29% of white students and 32% of Asian students. In reading tests, only 22% of Black students are proficient, compared to 50% of both white and Asian students.

In the city districts of Manchester and Nashua, the numbers show similar racial disparity. In Manchester, just 10% of Black students district-wide are proficient in math compared to 19% of white students, and only 17% of Black students are proficient in reading compared to 35% of white students. In Nashua, 14% of Black students are proficient in math compared to 28% of white students, and 30% of Black students are proficient in reading compared to 45% of white students.

Edelblut, who said the racial disparity has been “persistent” for decades, believes offering more extended learning opportunities outside of the traditional instruction model could help bridge the gap.

“For certain types of students, economically-disadvantaged students, minority students and students with IEPs, the question is, why is that happening?” Edelblut said. “And the answer is, they don’t access the structured environment, in the way we’ve designed it, well. The best thing we can do for these underperforming students is get them educational opportunities outside school, outside the instructional model we have.”

Murphy said the district is using its own assessments to monitor students’ academic growth over time, which she feels is more helpful in seeing where the schools are making an impact. She said at the end of the first trimester, the district will be able to see what growth students have made since returning fully in-person.

“We have a lot of work to do and we know that,” Murphy said. “That’s why we really ramped up our summer programs, we added tutors, educational associates especially in K-2 to help with reading and the math. We know we have plenty of work to do as it relates to these scores.”

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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