By Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4) – Anecdotally, it’s been no secret that students have fallen behind during the constraints of the pandemic, but state standardized test score data released Thursday paints a clearer picture of just how severe that learning loss may have been. Essentially across the board, students did worse on standardized tests in 2021 than in pre-pandemic 2019, indicating students of 2021 are not meeting grade-level achievement like the students in 2019 once did.

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“I think we’re really seeing some big impacts from the Covid situation, we saw losses in almost every grade of every subject area,” said Colorado Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes. “I think it really creates a sense of urgency as to how we help our students catch up from any learning loss they might have experienced over the last year.”

The scores in the math portions of the Colorado Measures of Academic Success – or CMAS – test were particularly low. In fact, officials say the math test scores in the fourth and sixth grades were the lowest since the CMAS was first administered, with only 28.5% of fourth graders, and 24.1% of sixth graders, meeting or exceeding expectations.

“That was pretty surprising to me,” Anthes said. “I wasn’t quite expecting the multiple years of loss, so I think that is something that reignites the sense of urgency, with the amount of learning we may have lost this year.”

Officials with the Colorado Department of Education say there is a nationwide pattern of children falling behind in math as a result of the pandemic constraints, and the test results in Colorado fall in line with that national trend.

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“I think math is a harder skill to learn remotely,” Anthes said.

Officials gave a caveat to the results, saying participation was much lower this year – for example 96.2% of fifth grade participated in the English Language Arts portion of the CMAS in 2019, and only 74.4% participated in 2021. Also, 88.8% of eighth grade participated in math portion in 2019, and only 57.9% participated in 2021.

Further, school officials say more white children took the tests than black or Hispanic students. Also, more suburban-area students took the tests than Denver metro and rural students.

Interestingly, on the PSAT and SAT tests, ninth, 10th, and 11th graders did slightly better in 2021 than 2019 on the reading and writing sections. Officials believe the children who were historically better students were more likely to have participated in the 2021 PSAT and SAT testing, which may have contributed to some of the higher scores.

Regardless, officials say the results overall paint an important – and dire – picture, saying it’s critical to have accelerated learning strategies in place in the upcoming school year to help students get back on track.

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When an analysis of the results was discussed at the state school board meeting on Thursday, one board member said, “so, the situation is not good, but if something doesn’t happen, it could be much worse.”

“What we all have to do now is kind of double and triple our efforts, we’re going to have to do some catch up, which means we might have to do some things differently, and that can always be uncomfortable,” Anthes said.

Anthes says at the next state school board meeting in September, the board will discuss how to best allocate federal COVID-19 relief money on accelerated learning programs.

From there, school officials say these results will give school officials a good baseline for the measure of future recovery efforts.

“I think some of those things will be around extended learning time, additional tutoring, additional after school supports, so that our kids can gain the skills they may have lost,” Anthes said.

District and school-level results for the standardized tests are not yet available.

To read the full state-wide results, click here.

Kati Weis