LANSING — Newly released scores show middle Michigan students have suffered significant learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic as performance on standardized state tests plummets at schools in Greater Lansing .

Fewer than half of third-graders — about 45% — in 20 central Michigan school districts in 2020-21 scored proficient or better in the English and Language Arts section of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress in the spring last. This is down from the last time the test was required in 2019 when proficiency in English and language arts hovered around 50% for third-graders in middle Michigan.

“We, like everyone else… saw a big drop from our 2019 scores, before the pandemic. It’s not shocking. It’s not overwhelming for us,” East Lansing Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Glenn Mitcham said. “Students came back from all sorts of different learning situations and responded. Whether at home online or in a building with a mask on. It was very difficult.

COVID-19 prompted schools to close for the final months of the 2019-20 school year and authorities canceled the annual test. Schools had the option to administer the M-STEP in the 2020-2021 school year. The requirement for students to take the test was reintroduced in 2022.

The 2020-21 M-STEP scores, released last week, were down across Michigan. About 41.6 percent of third-graders achieved at least a proficiency level in English language arts statewide, up from about 45.1 percent in 2019. And the number of third-graders showing proficient or better scores in math also fell from around 46.7% to 41.5%.

The decline in statewide reading scores follows the trend of declining reading scores nationwide. Nationally, reading scores for 9-year-olds saw the biggest drop in more than 30 years and math scores fell for the first time in decades.

The latest results from M-STEP show that students’ academic performance is deteriorating, continuing a trend that began before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust-Midwest.

“While it’s easy to write off these results and say they were expected due to the past two traumatic years of unfinished learning during COVID-19, the truth is that our state is behind our peers across the country for far too long, and well before the pandemic,” Arellano said in a statement.

While the region’s test results were down, the drop wasn’t even across the region.

Okemos Public Schools had the highest number of students at Grade 3 English and Language Arts or better, about 67.6%, Grade 3 English and Language Arts fourth grade, 78.4%, and math sections, 64.7%, and fifth and sixth grade English and language arts sections at around 71.2% and 69.9% respectively. DeWitt Public Schools students achieved the most proficient or best test scores in the third- and seventh-grade math sections at 72.5% and 59.9%, in addition to the English and English section. seventh-grade language arts, at about 69.6%

Haslett Public Schools leads the zone in proficiency or better in the fifth and sixth grade math sections at 51.5% and 61.5%, respectively.

Among school districts in the region, Lansing School District posted the lowest test scores overall, with the number of students with proficient or better scores falling in the math and English section and language arts at each grade level tested.

Reading proficiency scores for third-grade students in the Lansing School District fell to 16.6% proficient or better in the English and Language Arts section. These scores fell from 29.6% in the 2017-2018 test to 23.8% in the 2018-2019 test, when all students were last required to take the test.

Less than 20% of students in grades three through seven scored fluency or better in the English and Language Arts and Mathematics sections of the test.

Lansing School District officials did not respond to requests for comment.

In-person lessons made the difference

Educators attribute some of the learning loss to the need for remote learning due to the pandemic.

Recent M-STEP results provide educators and administrators with data illustrating the severity of learning loss that resulted from the months of learning students completed outside of their classrooms and away from teachers. .

“I have no doubt that students who were with their teachers in person longer probably do better. It wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Mitcham said. “For me, these were the results of the experiment that we didn’t want to be part of, but were forced to.

“But it is clear that the time spent with teachers is crucial for learning,” he added.

Woodcreek Montessori teacher Kristan Small teaches about “human capital” to her sixth through eighth graders remotely from the bar of her makeshift classroom at her home in Lansing, Thursday, October 15, 2020.

Discoveries in a study by the Education Policy Innovation Collaborativeat Michigan State University’s College of Education, emphasized the importance of students spending time in a classroom.

Michigan students who spent the entire 2020-21 school year learning remotely performed lower than students in school districts that offered full or partial in-person learning, according to the study.

“(The link between in-person learning and academic success is) not perfect. There could be other things related to distance learning playing a role,” said Scott Imberman, professor of education economics and policy at MSU and EPIC affiliate faculty member. “But it’s important enough that I’m convinced there’s something there.”

But comparing school districts that spent more time in person to districts that spent more time in remote learning provides no clear results. In Michigan, districts that spent more time offering in-person learning tended to be more rural or wealthier, with lower COVID-19 rates and lower death rates, said Katharine Strunk, professor of educational policy at MSU and faculty director at EPIC.

“Back to basics”

Equally important to student success at Eaton Rapids Public Schools was keeping students in school once they returned, Superintendent Bill DeFrance said.

Comparing the most recent M-STEP results with 2019, Eaton Rapids students saw improvements in more sections compared to the 19 other districts surveyed, including an 8 percentage point increase in the number of students in third year proficient or better in the English and Language Arts section, a 0.5 percentage point increase in third year proficiency in the math section, a 3.5 percentage point increase in math proficiency in sixth grade and a 1.7 percentage point increase in English and language arts skills in seventh grade.

For 2020-21, the district was able to limit the number of times it had to close buildings or isolate classrooms due to exposure to COVID-19, allowing for more uninterrupted learning for students, it said. -he declares.

“We wore masks for half the year,” DeFrance said. “But we haven’t had any disruptions because of the outbreaks.”

The district also tracked the health of students, as well as the health of teachers. DeFrance said most teachers are staying healthy and the district is avoiding having to rely heavily on substitute teachers.

“The thing is, I think we’ve done a good job of getting back to basics,” DeFrance said. “We have worked very hard to meet the children where they are. The kids are in different places coming out of COVID.

Apply lessons from data

With M-STEP scores in hand, schools have more data to consider when determining where students need the most help.

“If we knew how to teach kids over a year of instruction in a year, we would have done it more consistently even before the pandemic hit,” Strunk said.

Funding helped. Federal COVID-19 relief funding has helped schools, but it’s temporary, limiting what schools can do. The state’s $19 billion school aid budget, which includes a funding increase from $450 per student to $9,150 per student, gives schools the funding needed to update the curriculum or hire teachers and counselors – although with the current shortage of instructors, filling positions will remain a challenge.

East Lansing Public Schools have focused their efforts on summer school offerings. At the end of the last school year, Mitcham said, the district identified students who needed support and tried to enroll them in summer school, contacting them in all forms, phone calls and from emails to text messages.

“It was a huge effort that we put in and we think we’ll see results from it,” Mitcham said.

Contact Mark Johnson at 517-377-1026 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnsonot