COLUMBUS (WCMH) — When students and teachers head back to classrooms in the fall, they’ll have a lot of catching up to do.
NBC4 Investigates has been tracking third grade reading test scores in Columbus City Schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scores from this spring’s English Language Arts assessment, released Monday, show an improvement from fall scores but a significant decline from spring 2019.
Third-graders did not take the standardized test in spring 2020 due to the pandemic, and fall’s assessment was optional.
On the spring assessment, 21% of third grade students enrolled at CCS scored “proficient,” a six-point increase from 15% proficiency on last fall’s assessment. Compare that to spring 2019 when 39% of Columbus third-graders scored proficient, and it shows an 18-point drop over two years.
Other large districts fared worse than Columbus. Cleveland’s scores dropped 22%, Toledo’s 29% and Cincinnati Public Schools saw a 31% decrease.
Statewide, the reading proficiency rate among third grade students decreased by 16%, two points better than in Columbus.
“The scores are not where we would ever want to see them,” said Dr. Machelle Kline, the Chief Accountability Officer for Columbus City Schools. “However, they’re actually within range of where we thought they would be.”
Administrators like Kline and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Terri Breeden have been tracking the pandemic’s impact on learning in Ohio’s largest school district, which held classes online for most of the past school year.
“Any educator during the pandemic knows there’s going to be repercussions from something like this,” Breeden said. “We wanted to stop the learning loss problem as soon as we could.”
CCS plans to make up for pandemic-related learning gaps are already in motion. The district’s new Summer Experience program makes summer school available to more students and features a revamped curriculum.
Students will also see changes when they go back to classrooms in the fall.
CCS is staffing all of its PreK-12 schools with literacy specialists. The district is also hiring bilingual liaisons and 33 counselors to help students and staff navigate emotional challenges possibly brought on by the pandemic.
Kline noted the pandemic’s disproportionately negative impact on low-income families is why CCS is stepping up its attendance program and increasing support services for homeless and vulnerable students.
To pay for these programs, CSS is getting nearly $288 million in American Rescue Plan funding over the next three years. That’s on top of more than $160 million from the CARES Act.
“It’s been a godsend,” Breeden said.
To help mitigate learning loss, Kline advised parents and guardians to read with their children as often as possible. She also noted the homework help resources available through the Columbus Metropolitan Library.
“We can overcome this reading loss, and we will,” Kline said.