With the ever-important midterms only days away, why are none of the candidates discussing the devastating impacts of remote learning on our children across the country? In the last week, many news outlets have featured articles about learning loss based on national test scores. One study predicts that the abysmal math scores of eighth graders may reflect more than just learning loss. “Other important life trends, including high school graduation, college enrollment, and criminal arrests, are also likely to be adversely affected by years of thwarted schooling.”

For those like union boss Randi Weingarten who continue to perpetuate the narrative that learning loss is not really an issue and we should forgive those who enacted and supported bad policy, there is much more at stake on November 8, 2022. While this political operative presses issues unrelated to student outcomes and spends millions of taxpayer dollars to support candidates, none of the candidates on either side of the aisle are talking about education in a real way.

Pennsylvania is not immune to this national trend, in large part due to Governor Wolf’s myopic policies that kept schools closed and encouraged districts to remain closed long after the evidence was clear that it was safer for children and teachers to be in the classroom.

Results from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) reveal that children across the Commonwealth experienced significant learning loss. More importantly, the most vulnerable and educationally disadvantaged suffered the most, students who can ill afford to fall behind experienced the greatest losses.

The PSSA scores from 2020-2021 as compared to 2018-2019 (tests were not administered in 2019-2020) show an overall decline in all areas assessed, including English Language Arts, math, and science. English Language Arts and math tests are administered to all students in grades three through eight, and science tests are administered to all students in grades four and eight, although parents can opt their children out for a variety of reasons. 

Before covid, opting out was a more challenging process, but during lockdowns, the Department of Education (PDE) under Wolf’s administration relaxed the opt-out process. This decrease in tests administered created an easy excuse for the administration and the teachers’ unions to explain and justify the significant learning loss. According to PDE, reductions in tests ranged from 24% to 31% depending on the grade. 

Of the students who took the assessments, overall, English Language Arts test scores dropped by 5.3 percent, science scores dropped by 4.7 percent, and math scores dropped by 9.75 percent.

While those numbers may not seem significant, they are the averages, and the specific grade level results are more startling. Fourth and seventh graders took the biggest hits in learning loss. Fourth graders dropped 7 percent in English Language Arts and 10.6 percent in math. Seventh graders dropped 7.1 percent in English Language Arts and 11.3 percent in math. 

School administrations and teachers’ unions attempt to blame these results on the decreased number of test-takers, arguing that parents of students who may have scored higher opted their children out. But they cannot use that argument to explain the significant increase in students scoring “below basic.” According to PDE, “The Below Basic Level reflects inadequate academic performance, and work at this level demonstrates a minimal command of ability to apply the knowledge, skills, and practices, represented in Pennsylvania standards.”

For the 2020-21 school year, almost ten percent of all students tested were below basic in English Language Arts. Almost 17 percent of all students tested were below basic in science, and a staggering 38 percent were below basic in math. Eighth grade math students fared the worst with 53.5 percent of students scoring below basic. Additionally, 11.4 percent of eighth graders scored below basic in English Language Arts, and 26.7 percent scored below basic in science. 

How are those eighth graders managing this year in high school? It is doubtful that they have caught up or are back on track academically or emotionally. Based on the study above, these test scores may reflect more severe consequences than simply learning loss. How many students will drop out or not attend college or trade school? How many children will turn to crime and illegal activities as a result of these failed policies?

Regardless of the number of students taking the tests, these results are irrefutably related to school closures and remote learning. These policies failed our children, particularly our most vulnerable, and political operatives like Randi Weingarten want us to forgive the politicians who created this mess and potentially irrevocably harmed an entire generation of children. Instead, we should be holding every elected official accountable for this unmitigated disaster and demand that every candidate address how to fix it.

So where are the headlines? Where are the campaign promises to do better for our children? Why is neither side focused on education as a midterm issue?

We need elected officials and government leaders who are committed to addressing learning loss and the accompanying issues through real solutions. School choice is one component to fixing our broken system, but there is much more to be done. There are many important issues this November, but none is as important as the education of our children. Pennsylvania and our entire country will only ever be as strong as the quality of our education and the minds of our young people.

Ignoring education in the midterms is a miss, and every candidate running failed the test.

Beth Ann Rosica holds a Ph.D. in Education and has dedicated her career advocating on behalf of underserved children and families. She owns a consulting business and lives with her family in West Chester, Pa.

One thought on “Beth Ann Rosica: Education is a miss for the midterms”

  1. Meh, who gives a crap about the PSSA tests anyway?

    Not a measure of true intelligence, or success in the end.

    Just another taxpayer “feel good” funded State mandate.

    Follow the money…

    I pulled my kid out of public education when the covid b.s hit the fan.

    We never looked back..

    Its up to the parent to educate the child, not the system. Exit the hamster wheel.

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