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31% of RSS students passed standardized tests during pandemic

SALISBURY — As the pandemic upended traditional learning methods in public schools, Rowan-Salisbury students saw a significant drop in standardized test scores.

From 2018-2019 school year, when tests were last administered, to the 2020-2021 year, the district dropped from a 42.5% rate of students scoring a level three or above to 31.1%. The percent of students scoring a level four or above declined even more significantly, from 29.5% to 17.7%.

Among students classified as academically or intellectually gifted, 82.7% scored a three or above and 61% scored a four or above compared to 92.8% and 82.3% in 2018-2019, respectively.

The state considers students at a level three and above to be proficient and a level four and above to be career and college ready. Level five is the highest.

All standardized testing was waived for the 2019-2020 year on the federal level after most schools across the country temporarily closed their doors.

Between shutting down schools at the end of the 2019-2020 school year and teaching changes in the 2020-2021 year, RSS anticipated scores would decline this year.

Tracey Lewis, RSS director of marketing and communications, said the district will still use the results for instructional planning, and the administration is in the process of reviewing the compiled testing data, which was released on Wednesday. Once the review is complete, the administration plans to share its findings with the RSS Board of Education and discuss how the data will be used. A news release from the state says the data is not intended to be an accountability report.

The Rowan-Salisbury School System, however, isn’t alone in seeing test scores turn south. Statewide, 45.4% of K-12 students passed the tests for 2020-2021 compared to 58.8% in 2018-2019.

Results, however, won’t be used to issue performance grades for school districts until at least the 2021-2022 results. Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 654 into law, which waived 2020-2021 results being used in the state’s school performance grades system and as growth indicators given the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public schools also didn’t need to comply with a requirements that 95% of students take standardized tests. There are no labels for low-performing schools.

There were some high points for Rowan-Salisbury Schools. Bostian Elementary, for example, saw 61% of students scoring at a level three or above, but this was still down 5% from its 2018-2019 scores. The percent of passing scores by school ranged from well above the state and district totals to the low teens.

The full reports for testing data includes data on every demographic in every public school in the state. All told, there are more than 100,000 points of data for the entire state included in the set. The data is complicated and varies heavily school-to-school within the district. Some schools saw more significant declines than other and greater declines in some demographics or small improvements in others.

Isenberg Elementary saw its total percent of students at a level three or greater drop from 43.1% to 21%, but the percent of its academically gifted students hitting the proficiency mark increased from 86.1% to 95%. The percent of gifted students achieving a level four or higher increased as well, from 75% to 80%.

Summit Virtual Academy saw 27.7% of students passing the tests during its inaugural year.

The data does not take into account progress made during summer school. The state ordered districts to host massively expanded summer school programs using COVID-19 relief funding in the hopes of making up some lost ground. RSS spent about $2 million on its own programs this summer and the number of kids who were enrolled voluntarily jumped from 500 to 2,000.

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