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EDITORIAL: Distance learning turned into lost learning

Recent test results reveal “distance learning” was an oxymoron.

On Thursday, the state released results from last year’s Smarter Balanced assessments. There was significant learning loss compared to previous school years, with younger students faring the worst.

Around the state, 41.4 percent of students tested as proficient in English and just 26.3 percent scored at a proficient level in math. That was a notable decrease from proficiency levels of 48.5 percent in English and 37.5 percent in math during the 2018-19 school year.

Results in the Clark County School District were noticeably worse than the rest of the state. For instance, there was a 16 percent decrease in the number of Clark County third graders demonstrating proficiency in English. Nevada’s other third graders saw a decrease of 4 percent. In math, 24 percent fewer Clark County third graders showed proficiency in math. In other districts, the decrease among third graders was 9 percent. The 2018-19 schools year is used for comparison.

These statistics likely make things look better than reality. In Nevada districts, excluding Clark County, around 93 percent of students took the assessments. In the state’s largest district, just 54.1 percent did.

It’s logical to assume the most-connected students were the ones who took the test. The likely corollary is that if less-connected students had taken the test, the results would be even worse.

It’s certain that many factors played into these results. The pandemic is without recent precedent. But it’s also likely a refusal to reopen classrooms in Clark County explains some of the dramatic difference between this district and the rest of the state. The Washoe County School District reopened elementary schools in August 2020. Rural districts also prioritized returning elementary school students to the classroom.

Testing data shows the wisdom of that approach. Learning loss was significantly higher for third and fourth graders than for middle school students. For instance, the number of proficient eighth graders in English dropped by only 3 percent outside of CCSD. In Clark County, the decrease was 5 percent. It shouldn’t be a surprise that older students were able to better navigate distance learning.

For the tens of thousands of Clark County students who’ve fallen behind, there is no easy path forward. But helping these students requires being honest about how far they’ve fallen behind.

Inflating grades may make the adults in the system look good, but it won’t help students. They need extra class time and summer school to help catch up on what they missed.

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