OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma students’ proficiency in math, English and language arts and science has dropped dramatically since COVID-19 upended school years and pushed hundreds of thousands of children into remote learning, according to state assessment data made public Thursday.

In 2019 — the last full pre-pandemic school year — 31.9% of all Oklahoma students tested proficient in math. In 2021, only 22.1% did.

In 2019, 33.4% tested proficient in English and language arts. That number dropped to 24.8%.

And in 2019, 34.5% were proficient in science. Now just 29.7% are, according to an analysis released by the state Department of Education.

The annual assessments, which were not administered in 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak, aim to measure the percentage of students who have mastered the grade-level skills that are considered necessary to keep them on track to get into college or a career field.

Joy Hofmeister, the state superintendent, said she’s particularly troubled by the learning deficits among third graders.

In 2019, nearly 40% of third graders were proficient in English and language arts. In 2021, only 25% were. In 2019, 43% of those students were proficient in math. Now, only 29% are.

“We are looking at that drop, and (it’s) very significant,” she said. “Like we should be alarmed by what you’re seeing the impact of COVID on our children and our families.”

She said the effects of the pandemic will be seen and felt for years to come.

“There is no quick fix, but we must not and cannot give up,” she said. “As Oklahomans, we will strengthen our efforts to ensure our kids are learning in a classroom with their peers and their teachers are equipped and supported as well.”

Juan D’Brot, a senior associate at the Center for Assessment, said the annual assessments, which are administered to children in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11, are an effective way of looking at the “potential impact of all the interruptions that happened, whether psychological, emotional, physical, and what is a good starting point to monitor progress going forward.”

He said that second and third grades are particularly important because those are the years where students learn most of their fundamental building blocks. Those students’ second grade education was disrupted at the end of the 2020 school year when schools closed because of the pandemic. It continued to be disrupted when they started third grade.

D’Brot said the question now is how can educators can accelerate the recovery of that foundation loss because students need it in order to understand the more complex topics that build upon the basic fundamentals in future grades.

“Historically it’s been very difficult to close achievement gaps,” D’Brot said.

Hofmeister urged local districts to review their assessment results closely, and to use billions in federal coronavirus aid to try to close some of those achievement gaps.

The data is slated to be released to the public online next week.

“We have got to have all our schools focus on this data with all the resources that right now have been made available to make sure that our children have the support and that our teachers have the support they need,” Hofmeister said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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