Students disembark from a bus

Students disembark from a school bus outside of Washington High School Aug. 23 on the first day of the 2021-2022 school year.

Missouri elementary, middle and high school students did worse in all subjects and grade-level statewide tests during the coronavirus pandemic, data released Tuesday shows. 

Roughly 45 percent of public school students scored at least proficiently in English in the 2020-21 school year, according to results provided by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. That’s down from the nearly 49 percent of students who tested that well the previous school year.

Students did worse in math and science, with scores for math dropping from around 42 percent of students performing at grade level in 2019 to 35 percent last year. In science, test scores dropped from 42 percent proficient to 37 percent proficient.

The state education department won’t release district- and school-level data until later this year.

The goal of these exams, according to DESE, is to “test students’ progress toward mastery of the Missouri Show-Me Standards.”

School administrators, including the state’s top education official, asked for understanding in light of the slew of challenges teachers and students faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, including stress and long absences because of illnesses or quarantining.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most aspects of last school year were not typical,” Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said in a statement. “I urge stakeholders to use these data to learn from this experience and inform how to deploy resources to best support students, educators and schools.”

A little more than half of students who were tested last year were learning in person, according to data from the education department. Another 10 percent learned exclusively online, and 31 percent were taught via a mix of both ways.

About 80 percent of students had internet access.

Analysis by the education department found that students scored higher when they learned in school. Students who learned online scored better when they had access to internet and a device.

Concerns that disparities in quarantines, internet connectivity, reliance on substitute teachers, modified schedules and other complications would skew test results have proven true. 

St. Clair superintendent Kyle Kruse said some administrators around the state advocated to not administer Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP, tests last year due to these concerns.

But Kruse said it is important to know just how much student learning has been affected, even if the results are overwhelmingly negative.

“We have to keep score,” he said, “even if the score doesn’t go our way.”

Maranda Anderson, assistant superintendent and director of curriculum for the Washington school district, said usually the tests provide a small snapshot of how students, teachers and programs are doing over time. She says that across the nation, educators will see a drop in scores on standardized tests because education was so disrupted.

“Teachers are masterful at being able to adjust instruction with their formative assessments all day long while they’re seeing how kids are interacting and what tweaks they need to make to make sure the kids are understanding. And you can’t do that to the same extent virtually,” she said.

Missouri School Boards’ Association Executive Director Melissa Randol agreed, writing in a statement that teachers “did a fantastic job under the circumstances during this pandemic.”

“We can’t lose sight of that,” she said.

Anderson said the scores will also be helpful in determining which COVID-19 mitigation strategies affected learning the most.

“​​I think these scores will give us a glance at ... all of these mandates, such as offering virtual instruction and trying to do distance learning and all the COVID quarantines and all that, and how it is impacting our students,” she said.

Washington will also be comparing its data with that of other schools in the area, as well as with the state data, “just to make sure we’re staying on track,” Anderson said.

State education officials have already decided that test results for last year won’t be used against schools for accountability purposes because of the unusual circumstances of the pandemic.