Creighton Prep students have seen many changes to their school year, such as having watch parties for sporting events and safe lunch settings. Photo courtesy of Creighton Prep
Creighton Prep students have seen many changes to their school year, such as having watch parties for sporting events and safe lunch settings. Photo courtesy of Creighton Prep

After some students traded in chalkboards for iPads to study at home across the state, new standardized testing scores show detrimental effects to learning. 

Data from Nebraska Measure of Academic Progress tests show children made less progress and growth than in previous years. Additionally, failure rates in Nebraska schools have increased.

The MAP tests are designed to measure achievement and growth in students from kindergarten to 12th grade. David Jespersen, the Nebraska Department of Education public information officer, said the department staff believes there was still growth in these test scores, just less than previous years. 

“The big key we think is that there was continued growth across all grades and subjects,” Jespersen said. “The difference is that the growth was smaller than in other years.”

Students continued to demonstrate growth in reading and mathematics MAP tests, but the average amount of growth decreased between fall 2019 and fall 2020. The average scores decreased from -2.40 to -4.48 scale score points. While the decrease in Nebraska’s scores was more significant in the math tests than the reading tests, Jespersen said this finding was consistent with other national findings. 

According to these national findings from the 2020 MAP tests, most students in almost all grades made some learning progress in both reading and math. Just like Nebraska’s scores, however, the largest impact lies in math testing scores — students in grades 3-8 performed about 5-10 percentile points lower than 2019 MAP test scores.

Additionally, failure rates in Nebraska schools increased in the pandemic. Papillon La Vista Public Schools offered the option to learn in person or remotely in the fall of 2020. The district’s failure rate before the pandemic was 2.9%, but in the pandemic, in-person classes yielded a 3.4% failure rate. Remote classes fared noticeably worse, with a failure rate of 32.7%. While this difference is one of the most drastic in the state, other districts’ remote learners fared a similar fate.

While Omaha Public Schools had a 19.2% failure rate, both their remote learning and in-person failure rates jumped to 34%.

Despite the difficulties in educating through the pandemic, Jespersen said Nebraska’s scores still fared better than other states’.

“Overall, it appears Nebraska held our own or did a little better than the nation in both reading and mathematics when looking at fall 2020 MAP Growth scores,” Jespersen said.

At Valentine Community Schools, students partook in mainly remote learning after March 10 of last year. In the fall of 2020, the district drafted a plan to return students to in-person learning with limited visitors, fewer field trips and a mask requirement.

Superintendent Mike Halley said while there might have been a slight decrease in academic progress, keeping kids in schools has made the fall 2020 semester more productive.

“It wasn’t a significant impact like last spring’s lost learning,” Halley said.

Now, the district is focusing on keeping schools open.

“Our main goal is to try to keep in-person learning going on, to not have kids miss activities,” Halley said. “We’ve been able to do that to this point. Despite [how] terrible the pandemic is and everything, we’re getting through it.”