‘A tragedy’: Distance learning drives student test scores way down

Sen. Paul Gazelka called the low scores "a tragedy for this generation of learners" and emphasized the need for education reforms.

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Minnesota students scored significantly lower on state tests this year compared to 2019, the last time standardized tests were administered.

The Minnesota Department of Education released MCA and other state test results from 2021, which show low proficiency scores compared to 2019 test results.

Only 44% of students met or exceeded grade-level standards in math, a drop of 11 percentage points from 2019. In reading, just over half, 53%, of students scored at or above grade-level standards, a decrease of almost 7 percentage points.

Science proficiency was down 8 percentage points as well, with 43% of students meeting the standards this year.

“This is a tragedy for this generation of learners. Mastering basic reading and math skills [is] essential for success in life,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a statement.

The effects of COVID-19 and distance learning will be seen “for a very long time,” Gazelka continued.

Along with Senate Education Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, Gazelka is calling for reforms in Minnesota education, including school choice, removing “political and social agendas” from teaching standards, and focusing on teaching basic math and reading skills.

“Money is not the problem,” Gazelka said, remarking that this year saw “historic funding” for the public education system in Minnesota.

Students of color experienced an even higher drop in proficiency, Chamberlain and Gazelka said, noting that students of color saw a 34% drop in math compared to a 19% decrease for white students.

“Every parent, and especially black and Hispanic parents, deserves better from our schools,” Chamberlain said.

He argued that school choice, by allowing families to be “free from the trappings of a zip code,” is the best way to get kids into schools that are right for them.

“Our state’s future depends on these kids receiving a quality education, no matter where they live, the color of their skin, or their economic status,” Chamberlain noted.

MDE said in a press release that these test results “affirm” the need for “student learning recovery.” Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller claimed MDE did not “wait for the data to be available before we began working to create opportunities for students to catch up.”

The governor’s summer learning programs over the past few months have “laid a foundation” for the upcoming school year, Mueller said. She also announced the launch of a new statewide system to “support learning recovery.”

“This year’s academic mission is clear — get kids who have fallen behind academically due to disruptions to in-person learning back on track,” Chamberlain said.