KDKA: It’s been a challenging 2 years of school, and the PSSA test scores show it

Pennsylvania’s standardized test scores are out and they show just how far kids fell behind during the pandemic. From learning online at home, to hybrid with no routine, to days missed because of COVID and contact tracing, it’s been a challenging two years of school. And the test scores show it: The PSSA test scores (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) from 2021 show more than 41% of third-graders across the state are not proficient at reading.

Third-grade reading levels are an important benchmark. After third grade, kids are expected to know how to read for comprehension. Issues with reading comprehension are evident in the eighth-grade scores. Almost half are not proficient in reading.

“We knew that in-person schooling was important for kids to learn,” says James Fogarty, executive director of A+ Schools. “If cyberschool had worked over the past 15 to 20 years, we would have had cyber charters that were getting way better results than our district schools. We had not seen that in the data, ever.”

For Pittsburgh Public Schools, which struggled to get laptops to all kids and was remote for most of last school year, third-grade reading was down in all but four of the district’s 34 K-5 and K-8 schools. Scores at eight schools show less than one-fifth of the kids reading at a proficient level with one school as low as 5%.

“It’s no surprise,” Fogarty says. “It was saddening to me. It speaks to when we were one of three school systems in (Allegheny) county that was fully online, and everyone else was either hybrid or in person the whole time.”

Fogarty believes Pittsburgh should train teachers of all grade levels on the best ways to teach reading to help identify kids who are struggling and to help them catch up. He adds that the pandemic challenges also widened the gap between Black and white students.

One example: Colfax K-8 students showed some of the highest proficiency rates in all subjects, but there were significant performance gaps between Black and white students.

“Why you see such huge disparities in the data this year is really related to issues of poverty and resources,” Fogarty says. As for math, the PSSA scores across Pennsylvania are even worse than English.  More than half of kids from third grade through eighth grade are not proficient at math, with 78% of eighth-graders scoring below proficient.

Pittsburgh Public Schools responded to the PSSA test scores by saying this: “We remain focused on accelerating learning and addressing the unfinished learning of our students. It is improper to compare 2020-2021 results with previous years due to various conditions exacerbated by pandemic-related disruptions.”

A+ Schools is encouraging families to get kids into afterschool and summer programs that can also help with academics. You can find many free and subsidized programs on the Allegheny Childcare Finder.

As for tutoring, A+ Schools actually called for this to start last summer. By now, Fogarty says it’s probably too late for a city-wide organized program to be created for this summer. A+ is working with CMU on a special tutoring program with college students that will hopefully help expand tutoring opportunities to more kids.

If you’d like to see how your school or district did on the PSSA’s, click here to see all of the state numbers: PSSA Results (pa.gov)

And to find many more programs to help kids academically, you’ll find all kinds of great information in the “Learning” section of Kidsburgh.