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‘This is not what we wanted’: S.C. report cards show significant learning decline during pandemic

At the end of 2020-2021 school year, students were asked to take a federal assessment of whether they are learning at grade level.
Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 6:31 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV) – State report cards are giving a better idea of how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted South Carolina students.

At the end of 2020-2021 school year, students were asked to take a federal assessment of whether they are learning at grade level.

Those results have been released by the S.C. Department of Education. The tests weren’t mandatory, so not all students were tested.

According to the SCDOE, the biggest drop-off happened among third graders learning math.

During the 2018-2019 school year, 57.7% of third-graders were meeting or exceeding the expectations for that grade. Last year, that number was 46.9%, a decline of 10.8%.

South Carolina third-graders saw a significant decline in math skills amidst the pandemic.
South Carolina third-graders saw a significant decline in math skills amidst the pandemic.(Source: WBTV/S.C. Dept. of Education)

In reading and writing, the total drop was 6.3% That means that in the 2018-2019 school year, 49.7% of third-graders were meeting or exceeding the expectations for that grade. Last year, it was 43.4%.

South Carolina third-graders saw a significant decline in reading and writing skills amidst the...
South Carolina third-graders saw a significant decline in reading and writing skills amidst the pandemic.(Source: WBTV/S.C. Dept. of Education)

“This is not what we wanted,” S.C. State Superintendent Molly Spearman said. “We wanted and needed a normal school year. It just saddens me. I am almost at the point of anger that it’s not happening like it should.”

There was no testing during the 2019-2020 school year when the pandemic started, so these numbers are comparing the 2018-2019 and 2020-2021 academic years.

Spearman says these numbers can be deceptive if taken out of context. These tests were not mandatory for all students to take,  but it does indicate young learners had the hardest time adjusting to virtual learning.

”I am very very concerned with the results,” says Spearman.

Superintendent Molly Spearman cannot help but worry over the lackluster state report card for the 2020-2021 school year and it is growing as districts rack up quarantines and positive cases just three weeks into school.

”It saddens me- I am almost at the point of anger...that we are almost at the point that schools have to be virtual,” says Spearman.

A virtual switch will not help them pick up the ground Spearman is hoping for after a pandemic packed year. Spearman says they’re looking at the data to improve and she isn’t the only one.

”Given the conditions of last year and all of the hustle and bustle the pandemic handed us, there are definitely areas of improvement,” says Lindsay Machak, the spokesperson for Rock Hills Schools.

Rock Hill Schools is falling behind the state average in the state’s college and career readiness assessment for both math and English. On the kindergarten readiness assessment, below 30 percent of those students tested ready to learn.

All is not all negative though. The district is exceeding in Algebra, Science and History. Machak also says the English as a second language learners are also exceeding in that category. These are all things the district is really proud of, according to Machak.

”COVID definitely posed a lot of challenges for our families in our communities lasty year and that definitely impacted learning. We understand that, we accept it and we’re tackling that this year,” she says.

Spokesperson Lindsay Machak says the district already got a jump start with a summer reading camp, addressing gaps with more assessments and more tutoring.

”With all these factors combined we hope the children will get the extra help they need to catch back up,” she says.

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