Pandemic effects hindering education, as Nebraska state testing scores drop in language & math

Nov. 23, 2022, 2 p.m. ·

State testing scores released from the Nebraska Department of Education on Wednesday.
State testing scores released from the Nebraska Department of Education on Wednesday. (Screenshot from Nebraska Department of Education site)

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Nebraska’s statewide education test scores declined across all subjects except science last school year compared to pre-pandemic test scores. The Nebraska Department of Education released the data on Wednesday.

The Nebraska Student-Centered Assessment System tests third through eighth graders and juniors in high school and is separate from nationwide testing data released earlier this month. It measures proficiency in three subjects: math, language arts and science. The program began in 2018 and resumed last school year following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

From the 2018-19 school year to the 2021-22 school year, Nebraska test scores in all grades dropped an average of 6% in math proficiency. Language arts scores dipped by 5%, but scores remained the same in science.

At the announcement of the test scores on Wednesday, Commissioner of Education, Matthew Blomstedt, said the results show that the pandemic still affects educational outcomes. He said the state needs to invest more to recover students' lost learning.

“We really need to look at early literacy as a state,” he said. “We’re making some investments that we’ve put into our state proposed budget – some substantial investments on that front. We need a concerted effort on math and engaging students in their learning. We tend to lose students in the middle grades, and it's really important that we find ways to keep them engaged.”

Blomstedt said students in special education, English learners, and students experiencing poverty struggled more than average in this round of testing. Blomstedt, who is stepping down on Jan. 3, said the department can’t quantify how long it will take to catch students up. However, he said hiring more staff and paraprofessionals will resolve many of the shortcomings.

Steven Dike is the seventh through 12th grade principal at Ainsworth Public Schools in north central Nebraska. Ainsworth scored well above the state average in language, math, and science. Dike said that Ainsworth worked closely with a third party organization and the Department of Education during the pandemic. He said that helped with returning to in-person learning.

“We had the chance to work with them and plan out and organize this reopening,” Dike said. “‘What it looks like? What learning loss is going to look like?’ We addressed a lot of that academic reopening, not just the physical reopening.”

Dike also said Ainsworth created extra time for students to focus on subjects they were struggling with. He said providing catch-up time for students was critical to keeping them on track.

At Omaha Public Schools, language arts scores came in 20% below the state average among the tested grade levels. OPS math and science scores are also 26% lower than the state average.

Susanne Cramer is the Executive Director of Academic Recovery at Omaha Public Schools. Cramer said state testing is just one way to measure success.

“We continue, and always have, to monitor student data in relation to teaching and learning and use it to drive our decisions,” Cramer said.

She said there are many other national or OPS-specific tests that help teachers adjust their lessons.

The Nebraska Department of Education administers the ACT test to all juniors in high school. In the same data release, ACT proficiency fell by 8% in math compared to 2018-19. Language arts and science each saw a 5% decrease.