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Wisconsin eighth grade test scores slumped after pandemic disruptions, Nation's Report Card shows


Reading and math scores of students across the country dropped sharply in the aftermath of the pandemic, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which just released its first full report since the pandemic began.

Wisconsin students performed better than the national average, but still not as well as they have in the past.

The Nation’s Report Card shows eighth grade reading scores in Wisconsin dropped by 5 points. Math scores dropped by 8.

It’s the lowest these scores have been in at least 20 years.

Scores among Wisconsin’s fourth graders did not significantly change since 2019.

Scott Foster, the Northland Pines district administrator, says these scores are one indicator of the toll the pandemic took on education.

“The Northwoods schools, including Northland Pines, we were open, and I think we almost said, ‘boy, that should have taken care of the negative outcomes of COVID on learning,’” Foster says. “But we saw a lot of transient movement in and out of the district. Kids and staff still missed a lot of days being ill. There was trauma in kids’ lives. We lost community members and family members, and kids feel that stress. All of that played a role.”

Northland Pines and other districts in the Northwoods are now working to make sure students can catch up and grasp concepts they may have missed over the last couple of years.

“If we just think we can flip a switch and everything will go back to how it was, that isn’t what a high-quality organization does,” Foster says. “We added instructional paraprofessionals at those key kindergarten, first and second grade levels to focus on reading and math because we have more kids behind than we’ve had in the past, so we have to do something different.”

Foster also says standardized test scores offer a limited glimpse into a complex educational reality.

Northland Pines conducts its own assessments repeatedly over the course of each school year.

Looking at those scores, Foster says the fourth quarter of last school year showed a much more normal period of growth than earlier in the pandemic.

It’s a trend he hopes continues as this school year gets underway.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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