Amherst County Public Schools saw a large regression in math and science scores during the 2020-21 school year, a reflection of the highly challenging learning environment greatly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a very difficult year,” Chief Academic Officer Dana Norman recently told the Amherst County School Board in reviewing Standards of Learning data for 2020-21.
The division’s pass rates were reading, 64%; math, 40%, and science, 47%. Two years ago, pass rates in the division were 78% in reading, 82% in math and 79% in science.
All remote tests administered during that period did not factor into the overall pass rate but was still was required, according to Norman’s report. Just more than 260 parents opted their kids out of the SOL tests last school year, she said.
“We were definitely in a unique position last year because of our schedule,” Norman said.
Elementary schools were open four days a week in person and one day remote in the 2020-21 year while the high school and two middle schools had students in school two days a week. The Amherst Remote Academy had 1,414 students enrolled in the first semester and 1,312 in the second semester with an “enormous amount” trying to learn remotely 100% of the time, Norman said.
“And we know best instruction is in-person instruction,” Norman said.
Last school year, 1,585 students were quarantined at various times as a result of the virus.
The division’s action plan includes using data to redirect instruction to meet students where they are. Norman said students did much better when provided with a performance-based assessment.
“We just want to teach,” Norman said. “We want to be able to have our teachers in the classroom working with students and not be quarantined.” ACPS also is using some of its federal stimulus money to address learning loss.
The division uses MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) testing, a practice aimed at creating a personalized assessment experience and helping teachers with determining where students are performing.
“The way we will use MAP assessments is going to be so beneficial to teachers, getting that push for kids and closing the achievement gap and learning loss that they’ve had over the past 18 months,” Norman said.
After temporarily closing all the division’s schools due to concerns over rising cases of COVID-19 the week of Sept. 6-10, ACPS Superintendent Rob Arnold emphasized the importance of maintaining in-person learning to address learning loss and prevent more.
All Lynchburg-area school divisions began the 2021-22 school year with students in classrooms five days per week.
Abby Thompson, the board’s vice chair, said the 2020-21 shows challenges before educators and stressed the importance of families monitoring their children for COVID-19 and abiding by the health mitigation strategies in a team effort to keep the schools fully opened to in-person instruction.
“This is a struggle,” board member Chris Terry said of challenges so far this school year with a recent surge in COVID-19 cases that has affected the division. “It’s different than it was last year. But [ACPS educators] are stepping up to the challenge.”
He urged families to do what is needed in preventing the spread of the virus.
“It’s not always what we want to see but it’s what we need to see,” Terry said of the data on the SOL scores. “You don’t know if you make progress unless you know where you came from.”
At the state level, the impact of more than 18 months of disrupted learning was seen most in math and science pass rates, which dropped from 82% and 81%, respectively, in the 2018-19 school year, to 54% and 59% in 2020-21. The reading pass rate across the commonwealth fell from 78% two years ago to 69%.
According to the VDOE, a reduced number of students participated in state assessments “due to COVID-19 and other pandemic-related factors,” which means the pass rates reflect a smaller population of students.
Due to the closure of schools in March 2020, state assessments were canceled and SOL test data for the 2019-20 school year is unavailable. Locally, school divisions in the Lynchburg area saw regression in all three of these subjects, with math scores most affected.
“What matters now is where we go from here, and we will use the data from the SOL’s to identify the unique needs of every learner as our schools resume in-person instruction for all students,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said.
Thompson thanked Amherst teachers for working to make strides in students’ education in such difficult times.
“They’ve got a big gap to fill,” Thompson said. “There are challenges there we can’t even imagine.”
“We have an awesome group of teachers,” Norman said.
Reporter Jamey Cross contributed.