OLYMPIA, Wash. — Students from the state’s poorest school districts, and those with the highest populations from communities of color suffered the most learning loss during pandemic shutdowns of campuses, according to a new state study.
In an audit requested by state legislators, conducted by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review, investigators looked at test scores, teacher surveys, enrollment figures, and substance abuse and mental health studies.
Students in all age, race and ethnic groups reported higher anxiety levels compared to pre-pandemic figures. Substance abuse, including smoking and marijuana use, dropped across all demographics.
Students of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds, saw a drop in test scores, from the Spring of 2019 to the Fall of 2021, but most communities of color saw greater declines than white students.
Asian students had the smallest decrease in math and language arts tests. White students saw the next smallest drop, with students who listed themselves as “two or more” races coming next.
Students considered Hispanic and Latino saw the next biggest decline, Black or African-American students followed.
Students who saw the biggest drop in the English, language arts test were American Indian/Alaskan Native, where the numbers in 2021 were 5.1% lower than in 2019.
On the math test, Native Hawaiian or “other” Pacific Islanders saw the greatest decline, 11.5% lower in 2021 than in 2019.
Those two groups saw the largest overall decline in test scores.
All of the races and ethnic groups saw numbers improve by spring of 2022, but not to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
“It’s heartbreaking. You never want students to get behind,” said Rep. April Berg, D-Everett.
Berg said keeping students at home was the right decision, saying it kept them healthier, but she said lawmakers need to do more about the learning loss suffered between 2020 and 2022.
The preliminary audit results found OSPI was not adequately tracking how school districts are spending federal aid meant to help schools recover from the pandemic.
That claim was disputed by OSPI representatives at Wednesday’s audit presentation.
Rep. Berg said she was satisfied OSPI is properly tracking the expenditures.
“It was great to hear them saying, yes, they’re reading them, they’re tracking them, they know where the money is and they know where it’s going to go,” said Berg.