Students in grades three through eight and high school take the online exam in the spring, as required by federal law.
In spring 2019, the last time students took the exam, 37% of students were reading at grade level or above. Today, 31% meet this standard. The proportion of students who passed the math exam dropped by 12 percentage points, from 31% before the pandemic to 19% in 2022.
Literacy scores show growing achievement gap in DC during pandemic
But officials say they expected low scores, which come after two difficult years of the pandemic that pushed children out of classrooms. The city also suspended testing for two years, meaning this spring was the first time that about half of the 43,000 students who participated — either in PARCC or an alternative assessment for students with cognitive disabilities – passed the exam.
Moreover, the scores reflect national trends, as indicated by national data released this week that shows performance in elementary school math and reading has plunged to levels not seen in decades.
But with $1 billion in federal stimulus funds, district officials have outlined an ambitious plan to catch up with students that includes summer programs, tutoring and curriculum changes.
“There are widening gaps across the city, some loss of learning effectively everywhere with, I think, the greatest harm of the pandemic is on students who need it the most,” said Paul Kihn, the city’s deputy mayor for education. “But the provisional data of [local education agencies] suggest that students are indeed on the road to recovery and have indeed learned over the course of [the] last academic year.
English test scores in the district haven’t been this low since the 2016-17 school year, when 31% of children read at grade level or above. Officials noted that declines in skill rates were more pronounced in lower grades. In 2019, 38% of children in grades three to eight passed the reading test. This number has fallen to 30% in 2022.
However, the reading skills of high school students only dropped by one percentage point, from 34% in 2019 to 33% in 2022.
US student test scores plunge to levels not seen in decades
During the latest round of testing, city education officials celebrated the progress made by black and Hispanic children, who improved at a moderately faster rate than — though still tested considerably behind — their white peers. In 2019, 27.8% of black children were reading at grade level or above, an increase of 3.1 percentage points from the previous year. Hispanic and Latino students gained five percentage points over the same period, from 32% to 37.3%. The share of white children who passed the reading test increased by 2.9 percentage points, to 85% in 2019.
But the pandemic has eroded that progress. Reading proficiency rates among black children have fallen by nearly eight percentage points. Hispanic children fell behind by seven percentage points. The proportion of white students reading at grade level or above fell by about five percentage points.
The English language arts proficiency rate dropped six percentage points for at-risk students, defined by the city as homeless, foster or low-income children.
But the district suffered the most severe learning loss in math, recording its lowest scores since the city began administering the PARCC exam in the 2014-15 school year. Skill rates fell by more than 10 percentage points for most racial and ethnic groups.
Only 22% of elementary and middle school students passed the math exam in 2022, down from 32% in 2019. Students in grades 9-12 also lost ground, dropping from 19% of students who passed in 2019 at 11% this year.
But city officials say they are on track to return to pre-pandemic success levels. DC Public Schools is introducing a new math curriculum this year, called Illustrative Math, which will allow teachers “to enhance math education, especially for our high school students, grades 6 through 12,” a said Lewis Ferebee, chancellor of the public school system.
And, test data from NWEA MAP and i-Ready, which are other standardized tests that students take throughout the year, show that elementary and middle school children have started to rebound at growth rates. pre-pandemics, according to EmpowerK12, an education research firm in the neighborhood.
“Spring semester growth has been above average,” said Josh Boots, the organization’s founder and chief executive. If the pace of improvement from the spring continues, the city could return to pre-pandemic achievement levels for most students by 2027.
The rate of improvement for at-risk students, English language learners, and children with disabilities, however, is slower than their peers.
“This is a multi-year recovery effort,” said Christina Grant, the state’s superintendent of education. “We believe that these targeted investments will continue to bear fruit in the education of our children in light of the results we have today.