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Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Pandemic Took A Major Toll on Students 

Students are pictured entering Middle Township High School.

By Vince Conti

COURT HOUSE – The 2022 national report card on 4th and 8th grade assessments of reading and math has been described as “appalling,” by U. S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, despite billions being added to federal funding for education. 
All the while, many local school districts are spending Covid relief funds on heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems. 
In October the results of the2022 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test score showed a picture that was worse than many officials expected. The NAEP, authorized by Congress in 1969, provides what is frequently termed “the nation’s report card.”
The test administered to 4th and 8th graders assessed reading and mathematics and compares the results to long-term trends. The narrative that has arisen around the score considers pandemic-induced learning loss since the last test period in 2019. The NAEP categorizes results along a series of proficiency levels from Basic to Proficient to Advanced. 
Nationally, 43 states saw a decrease in the mathematics score from 2019 among 4th graders, with only one state, Utah, avoiding a decline among 8th graders. Reading scores did not suffer the same degree of loss, but showed a decline in reading levels. 
New Jersey did better than the national average but 4th graders dropped seven points in mathematics, compared to an 11-point decline among 8th graders. For 8th graders the drop in the percentage of students at or above proficiency level was one of the sharpest in the nation. 
The NAEP test does not provide individual student, school or district results, except for a series of large urban school districts. Among those districts Philadelphia faired poorly, placing it near the bottom of the rankings with 41% of students at or above basic level.
Cape May County is not singled out in the national and state results, yet there is no reason to believe that school districts in the county are not confronted with a formidable task in regaining lost ground. 
Lest we believe the problems are focused on the elementary and middle school grades, the American College Test (ACT) organization administered a college readiness test to 36% of graduating high school seniors across all fifty states to measure college readiness. The results were released in October. 
These results represented the lowest average scores since 1991 with 42% of the students tested failing to meet any of the four college readiness benchmarks in English, reading, science and mathematics. Only 22% met all four. ACT CEO Janet Godwin called the results “alarming.” 
The New Jersey composite ACT score was once again higher than the national average, but the Garden State did not finish in the top ten. The state tested 12% of the 2022 high school graduates, with a composite score of 24.6 out of 36. Most disturbing to state education officials was the percentage of students who did not meet any of the four benchmark levels for college readiness. While 49% of New Jersey students tested met all four college readiness benchmarks, 51% did not with 31%, almost one-out-of-three students tested failed to meet any of the four.
A Boston University education school analysis stated what is increasingly obvious. The pandemic took a major toll on students in the United States. The analysis pointed to “greater reliance on remote learning” as “associated with steeper decline.”  
As school districts develop strategies for combatting the learning loss, the good news is that federal funding is at historic levels. Nationally, state and local education agencies have received billions in COVID relief funds. Thus far many of the the most visible investments by school districts across the country have invested relief funds in facilities and operations, especially school heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Construction delays and supply chain issues have hampered these efforts, but the U. S. Department of Education is allowing more time for spending the funds. 
While reporting lags actual spending, the overall low level of spending of ARP dollars means millions in spending for academic programs lies ahead. New Jersey state assessment test results have yet to be released and will add to the picture of the extent of damage done by the learning interruption of the pandemic.
In Cape May County school districts have been provided with over $28 million in total allocation of American Recovery Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER). On average nationally local district ARP ESSER funds are less than 10% spent as of September 1 according to the federal tracking system. 
The Edunomics Lab at Georgetown allows a look at reported spending by Cape May County school districts as of Nov.  3. That spending is on a par with the national averages at almost exactly 10% of the total local ARP ESSER funding
Although there are 16 acceptable categories of allowable use, a major focus of the ARP was on addressing learning loss among students. The challenge of recovery from the pandemic’s learning disruption is real and formidable.  

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