Sonoma County 2021-22 school test score regression worse than state average
After two years of epic disruptions to public education related to the COVID-19 pandemic, California officials released data Monday that showed what educators and parents have suspected — a sharp regression in English and math test scores since 2019.
For Sonoma County students, the decline was sharper that the statewide average in both subjects: about 5.5 percentage points in English and almost 7 percentage points in math.
The troubling snapshot came as the California Department of Education released its highly anticipated Assessment of Student Performance and Progress numbers, and they were not promising.
Across California, the number of students meeting or exceeding English language test standards declined by just over 4 percentage points, while the rate of students hitting the threshold for math scores dipped by well over 6 percentage points.
Jennie Snyder was disappointed by the results, but not shocked. As deputy superintendent for educational support services at the Sonoma County Office of Education, she has been monitoring the latest learning data — from large-scale surveys like YouthTruth to more granular information from schools and districts.
“In the larger context of what we’re seeing across the nation and state, it’s not surprising,” Snyder said.
The larger context included a hurried transition to Zoom-based classrooms in March 2020, leaving some students surviving in relative isolation and others at a technological disadvantage. That was followed by herky-jerky swings to remote, in-person and hybrid learning as government health restrictions evolved along with the COVID-19 virus.
“Different schools and different districts may have been impacted differently,” Snyder said. “One thing the pandemic has done is laid bare some of the inequities we know exist in the system. Students who were furthest from opportunity and resources and access had larger impacts — the families that were stressed and hit hardest by pandemic.”
Overall, approximately 45% of Sonoma County’s students between grades 3 and 11 met or exceeded test standards in English this year, while 31% reached those levels in math.
Though it isn’t as closely monitored by most parents, the state also tests for science. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding test standards for science stayed relatively consistent: 29.2% of Sonoma County students reached the benchmark in 2019, 29.1% in 2022.
Hidden in the English and math data were both success stories and red flags.
Among the positive results were three Sonoma County elementary schools — El Verano and Sassarini in Sonoma Valley, and John B. Riebli off Mark West Springs Road — that showed improvements on both measures. The West Sonoma County Union High School District also saw upward movement on both tests.
At West Side Union Elementary, a one-school district outside of Healdsburg, the kids hitting the benchmarks jumped by more than 10 percentage points in both English and math. Principal Rima Meechan cited a number of factors that included a veteran staff, parent involvement, opening up after-school office hours for both students and parents, and expanded English Language Development in the afternoons for English language learners.
“We really did a good job with distance learning, kept on it, kept kids engaged,” said Meechan, who came aboard in 2021. “I saw those results and I thought, ‘Wow, they didn’t skip a beat.’”
Many more campuses seem to be headed in the wrong direction, though.
Among school districts, some of the sharpest declines in the number of students meeting the state standards were at Bellevue Union, Roseland, Santa Rosa Elementary School District, Old Adobe Union and Windsor Unified.
The individual campuses experiencing the strongest negative impacts of the pandemic included Cali-Calmecac Language Academy in Windsor, San Miguel Elementary in the Wikiup area, and Prestwood Elementary and Altimira Middle School, both in Sonoma. All of those schools saw dips in proficiency rates that approached or exceeded double-digit percentage points in both English and math.
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Educators, while keenly interested in the new test data, caution against making sweeping generalizations.
“I think the context is understanding what students and staff, and our community, have been through,” Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Anna Trunell said. “When we returned to school last year, we placed a big emphasis on social-emotional learning and health wellness. That doesn’t mean we weren’t educating students. It just means our attention was going many places to support students and staff.”