Like most educators, Dr. Debra Plowman has spent a lot of time thinking about the pandemic-induced school closures and the impact they had on students. National and state scores released last week are further evidence the impact was great.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called the Nation’s Report Card, measured fourth and eighth graders and showed stark declines and math and reading scores across the nation in 2022.

In Texas, reading scores have held steady, though math skills have declined at a “statistically significant” level.

“We always have learning loss in math. We call it the ‘Summer Slide,’” said Plowman, an education professor at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “Some of the learning loss is due to how students learned it in the first place. But yes, the school closures had an impact.”

If anyone understands the issue, it would be Plowman, who specializes in working with math teachers. Along with her work at TAMU-CC, she has done professional development for K-9 teachers all over the United States. And for more than 10 years, she served as Coordinator for Mathematics Initiatives for the Texas Regional Collaborative at UT-Austin.

“In hindsight, I think we could have done some things better during the pandemic,” Plowman said. “Some schools didn’t have a good remote [experience] for students. And it would have been nice to have [math] sessions with parents.”

In the NAEP report card, which is released every two years, Texas fourth graders did not show a statistically significant change in their reading scores. The scores are measured from 0-500, and in 2022, fourth graders in Texas scored 214.2 in reading. In 2019 – the most recent test before this year – the students scored 216. In 2017, that score was 214.8. In other words, reading-skill levels have remained fairly constant, even through the pandemic.

The same is not true for fourth grade math scores, which dipped from 243.6 in 2019 to 238.6 in 2022. In fact, Texas students haven’t scored this low on math since 2003.

In eighth graders, the reading numbers in 2022 were statistically identical to 2019 – both years they scored 255. But like fourth graders, the eighth graders in Texas also struggled with math after the pandemic. They dropped from 279.6 in 2019 to 272.6 in 2022.

“Results from the 2022 Nation’s Report card highlight the hard work of Texas teachers and students,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. “While we are largely recovering from the effects of the pandemic in reading, much work remains in math.”

Remaining Work

At Gregory-Portland ISD, Robyn Hernandez has been tapped with helping students improve those scores. She is the Elementary Math and Science Coordinator for the district, and while she’s barely a month into her new job, Hernandez said G-PISD is taking a measured, individual approach to math improvement in students.

“We’re using high-quality instructional materials and progress-monitoring tools to make sure students are on track,” Hernandez said.

As G-PISD works with each student, Hernandez said there are further layers of support, including Gap Interventional Specialists, who help students who need extra work. Put another way, the district has taken a singular approach to working with individual students, and even those students’ families.

“We have Family Math Night two times a year,” said Crystal Matern, chief communications and engagement officer for G-PISD. She also highlighted a program the district has called “Dream Team,” where parents come in by grade level and are able to spend more than an hour with the teachers to talk about goals for the students.

“We’ve noticed energy in those conversations,” Matern

said. “And not just between parents and teachers, but also parents with other parents.”

To both Hernandez and Matern, G-PISD is taking the approach that each student can improve, sometimes at a different pace than a classmate.

“We want to continue to see scores improve as a district,” Matern said. “But our goal is always moving every student forward.”

Right Approach

Plowman, who has not worked with G-PISD, echoed the approach taken by the local school district.

“First of all, I think it’s important that we do not panic,” the professor said. “In fact, I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen in some recent work with sixth graders.”

Plowman believes the best approach is exactly what leaders at G-PISD said they are doing.

“We need to sit down with students. We need to develop interviews with every child, because it gives us such a good idea of where kids are,” she said. “This is where the professionalism of teachers matters.”

In analyzing both the reading and math scores, Plowman also said it’s good to know that professional math teachers are needed.

“In terms of reading, that really wasn’t hard for parents during the pandemic. They could sit down and read with their children,” she said. “But doing math, at home, it was difficult for the parents. And that’s probably better left to the experts.”

In fact, that’s exactly how Hernandez said parents could help as students work to improve math scores.

“Parents can really help their children with computation. Addition, subtraction, those things,” she said. “If they’ll do that, our teachers can provide the rest.”

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