EDITORIAL: Education Test scores show pandemic effects remain

Aug. 27—Why it matters: School test scores for basic skills remain far below pre-pandemic levels.

The social upheaval and disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic continues its "long haul" effect on the education of the state's children based on the recent number of students failing to meet reading and math basic skills with testing results that are 10% to 15% below the pre-pandemic level.

It's a grim reminder of the health and emotional costs of the pandemic and the isolation it required. It's also a reminder that much work remains to even get the state's children back to where they were a few years ago.

The Northwest Evaluation Association, an education policy group the creates Minnesota tests, estimated students would need four to five months of tutoring to get back to pre-pandemic levels in math and reading competency.

Seven of 17 regional school districts were below the already low state average in math proficiency at less than half of the students (45.5%) meeting the standard. Nine of 17 districts were below the state average in reading which was almost half statewide at 49.9%.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Willie Jett takes the right attitude, saying: "We will not shy away from what the data are telling us. These results send a renewed sense of urgency and underscore the importance of key supports that are already underway."

The department has provided a report card on each school that can be found at https://rc.education.mn.gov/. It shows test scores for the past five years, graduation rates and school attendance rates. Parents should use this to start discussions with administrators and teachers on how their schools will get better.

Jett and others point to recently passed school funding legislation that will provide schools and additional $2.3 billion, a 10% increase that amounts to a 2 to 4% increase per year in spending on the classroom. The Legislature also allocated $15 million to hire more school counselors and provided $700 million for special education.

Jett also notes schools will embark on a new strategy to teach reading and the state will support funding for the new science-based curriculum.

More money will help. Better strategies will help. More emotional support for students will be critical. But schools are not just about teachers and administrators. They're about parents and community support, and parenting will be critical to get students back to where they were and excel after that.

While the poor test scores are troubling, attendance rates are just as concerning. Statewide, only 70% of students attend school regularly, meaning 90% of the time. In the Mankato school district, the attendance rate is 57%.

Students can't learn if they're not present, and parents have the main responsibility to make sure their kids are in school.

The education funding critics will point to the test scores and argue even more money doesn't help, but that's narrow thinking. The pandemic foisted a burden on the normalcy of society so significant even billions more in spending cannot quickly resolve the damage done.

Be we must redouble our efforts to make sure the education of children takes precedence in all we do with the resources we have, and that everyone plays a role in making sure children get the education they need to live happy and productive lives. Our society depends on it.