Prince William County Public Schools are hiring tutors and math coaches as part of their effort to address the drop in test scores and learning loss that resulted from a pandemic-plagued school year.

A staff presentation to the School Board on Wednesday night provided a more detailed look at student performance last year within the division, showing pronounced drop-offs in several key areas, most notably in mathematics, where the number of passing scores fell by 29 percentage points from the 2018-19 school year. (SOL tests were not administered in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic first shuttered school buildings). 

The percentage of students passing reading tests, meanwhile, fell by 7 points from 2019, though both score changes were largely mirrored by statewide results.

And while scores in both categories fell across every ethnicity the Virginia Department of Education includes in its reports, the declines were sharpest among the division’s Black and Hispanic students, widening an already significant testing gap between groups. 

Among Hispanic students, the percentage of students passing reading tests fell by 10 points, while the percentage passing math tests dropped from 76% to just 39% last school year. The percentage of Black students who passed reading and math tests fell by 5 and 29 points, respectively. Declines were dramatic among economically-disadvantaged students of all backgrounds as well. 

“We’re going to have to take a hard look at the fact that we had multiple years of unfinished learning in terms of addressing and covering standards for mastery,” Superintendent LaTanya McDade told the School Board. “And in math, there’s pre-requisite skills that have to occur so when those are missed, even now this year with students coming back in there are a lot of skills that teachers would have had to revisit over the course of the last two years.”

Across the four SOL subjects, the percentage of students passing with advanced scores dropped or stayed steady, with significant declines in math, science and social studies. 

In terms of in-school performance, dropout rates remained roughly flat from the prior year. And at 92.78%, the percentage of students graduating on-time was higher in 2021 than it was in 2019. The percentage of 12th-grade students considered college-ready according to Virginia Community College benchmarks continued a three-year decline, however. 

Roughly half as many students actually took the SOL tests last school year compared to 2019, and unlike prior years, retakes were not possible. 

Those factors caution against drawing too many conclusions from the scores, said Rita Everett Goss, associate superintendent for teaching and learning.  

“It is important to be careful not to make blanket comparisons between the pre-pandemic data and the pandemic data,” Goss added. “However, it is also important to note that the pandemic data highlights the specific areas we need to be intentional about addressing our achievement and opportunity gaps.”

McDade and others acknowledge that significant work is needed over the next two years to bring as many students as possible back up to speed. Division leadership is beginning to implement its two-year “Unfinished Learning Plan,” which will include staff development on accelerated learning and instructional strategies, as well as several in-classroom initiatives, including new early literacy programs and more access to tutoring. 

Goss said the division has allocated $4.6 million across all 96 division schools to hire tutors. Administrators hope that consistent “high-dosage tutoring” during the school day – which includes three or more sessions per week of at least 30 minutes with targeted instruction on pre-requisite skills needed for students to be competent in grade-level subject matter – will help make up the ground that’s been lost. 

On mathematics specifically, 21 prioritized schools will be assigned dedicated “math coaches.” Regular mathematics assessments will be administered to monitor progress throughout the year and adjust as needed. 

As with many efforts to overcome the losses of the pandemic, though, some of the division’s efforts could be hamstrung by labor shortages. A nationwide shortage of teachers that existed before the pandemic has only worsened, and schools across the division had openings even before plans for more staff. 

School Board Chair Babur Lateef told InsideNoVa last month that the division’s biggest sums of American Rescue Act Plan funds will be spent on staff, but that finding the staff could be a challenge. 

“We’re having a hard time hiring even for our normal numbers,” Lateef said. “So when we decide to go out and hire more [teacher’s assistants], we’re going to do that, but the problem is finding them and finding them in time.”

But McDade has said that she’s maintaining both short- and long-term outlooks, and her plan is set to be implemented over two years, during which time some of the shortages could abate. 

“Many of the strategies and initiatives that have been outlined for addressing the data is over multiple years,” she said Wednesday night. “So this is not an expectation that all of these strategies will be employed in a single year because that is not possible and all of the research is showing that the impact of the pandemic will require multiple years of recovery.” 

Jared Foretek covers the Manassas area and regional news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at jforetek@insidenova.com

Reporter

Jared Foretek covers Prince William County Public Schools, the city of Manassas and transportation news across Northern Virginia. Reach him at jforetek@insidenova.com

(10) comments

Kermit Robat

The learning loss wasn’t caused by the pandemic.

The learning loss was caused by teachers’ unions and unaccountable school boards that kept children out of school for a year. All for a disease that has a fatality rate in children that is on par with or less than the seasonal flu, per CDC stats.

Tom Manson

Schools are breeding zones for viruses. Beyond the impact to kids which has resulted in child deaths, you have to consider the spread to the families and the many teachers who have died from the disease.

https://www.goodrx.com/blog/flu-vs-coronavirus-mortality-and-death-rates-by-year/

Kermit Robat

@Tom

There are three points I want to make:

(1) What was the purpose of vaccinating teachers in January, ahead of many other demographics, if not to get children back into schools? And even without the vaccine, I have it on good authority that N95 masks are highly effective at mitigating transmission, so any concerned teacher has additional protective measures at their disposal.

(2) Parents are who were (and still are) concerned about the spread of covid can choose to keep their children at home and pursue virtual learning options or homeschool.

(3) My prior comment comparing covid and the flu was specifically in the context of children. The link you shared looked at aggregate stats and did not separate by age. Yes, there have been more than 720,000 covid fatalities in the US as of Wednesday. And the number of covid fatalities in children (age < 18)....is 542. That's out of a population of 73 million children over a period of more than 20 months. During that same time, 59K children have died from things other than covid.

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm

Since you are up on your flu statistics, may I presume that you are aware that the 2018 flu season saw 477 adolescent flu fatatlities even though we vaccinated 42 million children against the flu that year? Compare that to the covid stats above which are for nearly two years. But it's not just that children are at less risk from covid than the flu. A child is at far less risk from covid than a vaccinated adult. In the state of Virginia a total of 9 children have died from covid. Meanwhile, just this year, 491 fully vaccinated adults have died from covid. Given the children account for ~23% of the population, you can do the math and see that even unvaccinated, a healthy child is at less covid risk than their fully vaccinated parents and grandparents.

https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/see-the-numbers/covid-19-in-virginia/covid-19-cases-by-vaccination-status/

Bottom line, in the case of children, covid is no worse than the flu. The science on this is overwhelming.

John Dutko

What you fail to recognize is the functional characteristics between the flu and covid.

The flu affects primarily the respiratory system and has a litany of symptoms that are manageable with OTC drugs and mitigated via seasonal vaccines.

Covid also affects respiratory functions, but has the tendency to attack the blood and lead to organ failure. Flu is not not known for organ failure nor blot clots.

Now ask yourself: Why are the number of deaths in children so low?

What measures have we taken to prevent transmission among children?

Do you really want to remove the controls that were implemented?

And then you did this again:

"Meanwhile, just this year, 491 fully vaccinated adults have died from covid. Given the children account for ~23% of the population, you can do the math and see that even unvaccinated, a healthy child is at less covid risk than their fully vaccinated parents and grandparents."

You ignore total population of Virginia, the number of total cases and deaths, make it a point to highlight that 491 fully vaccinated adults died from covid yet leave out that unvaccinated people have died a rate 5x that.

All of your data and conclusion are conjecture. If it was true, don't you think that SOME COUNTRY would have produced similar results? The virus is not confined to our borders. Hell, I can point to Japan and say that their mask policy is socially ingrained, therefore it was relatively easy to keep the death toll down under 19,000 for the whole country.

Kermit Robat

@John

You acknowledge that out of the 720,000+ covid fataltiies in the US, only 542 are attributable to children (age < 18).  And you acknowledge that in the US, we have fully vaccinated 69% of the adult population and that more than 12 million adults have received a covid vaccine booster.  And you acknowledge that the covid vaccine is highly effective at preventing severe symptoms and death.

In spite of all this, fully vaccinated adults are still dying at a higher rate than unvaccinated children.  Any your assertion is that the children are not being impacted by covid due to some unique mitigating measure that only benefits them and not adults?

From your many nonsensical rants on this forum I gather that you seem to care a great bit about covid misinformation.  I would suggest you spend some time viewing the garbage you posted above in the absence of supporting scientific evidence or studies through the lens of your concerns on covid misinformation.

Here are the pre-vaccine breakdown on covid fatalities in the US:

Age 65+: 80%

Age 50+: 95%

Age 40+: 97.5%

Age 30+: 99.3%

Age 18+: 99.94%

Pre-vaccine, children (age < 18, who are approximately 23% of the US population) accounted for less than 0.06% of pre-vaccine covid fatalities.

All I'm citing for you are CDC stats.  Like 'em.  Don't like 'em.  Don't acknowledge 'em.  Whatever it is you choose to do, they are irrefutable and the evidence is overwhelming.  The seasonal flu is more impactful to children than covid and a healthy unvaccinated child is at lower covid risk than a fully vaccinated adult.  And this is clearly not due to some unique mitigation that only benefits children.

John Dutko

@Kermit

The reason why you are getting this sample of data is because children have not been fully exposed to the level adults have.

if you force the children to be exposed to the same conditions that adults do, then you will see an exponential increase, one that wackos would be willing to try. But then they go "oops, my bad" as it becomes apparent there are people willing to risk children's lives.

Kermit Robat

@John

"The reason why you are getting this sample of data is because children have not been fully exposed to the level adults have."

Rubbish.  The CDC has documented 6 million adolescent covid cases out of a total of 45 million documented cases.  And this ignores the millions of other undocumented asymptomatic cases which are more common in children.  

The simple fact of the matter is that children are incredibly resilient against this virus.  Yet you continue to ignore the science and spread covid misinformation.

John Dutko

@Kermit

If what you are saying is true, then provide the blockbuster evidence because that would be one helluva news article.

In fact, the CDC would even go out and make a press release about such a topic.

News organizations around the WORLD would LOVE to put out that children (more information about the age range needed) are less likely to succumb to the virus.

Seriously. For an organization that covers ALL aspects of healthy living and provides that information in layman's terms, you don't think they wouldn't put out that information?!

Kermit Robat

@john

My argument has been that the impact of covid on children is comparable to the flu. I have provided more than adequate data to support that and you have failed to refute a single data point I provided.

Maybe it’s time for you to reevaluate the objectivity of your news sources.

John Dutko

@Kermit

No, you didn't.

You provided no primary sources. You just say "per the CDC" and think that is acceptable, yet when asked to prove your claims, you cannot.

I could say "Per the CDC, vaccination against Covd-19 is a necessary tool in the fight to stop the pandemic" and "Children need to be vaccinated because they can Be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, get sick from COVID-19, and spread COVID-19 to others."

But here we go... Per the CDC, here are the differences between the flu and Covid-19:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm

Big takeaway is :

Flu

Most people who get flu will recover on their own in a few days to two weeks, but some people will experience severe complications, requiring hospitalization. Some of these complications are listed above. Secondary bacterial infections are more common with influenza than with COVID-19.

Diarrhea is more common in young children with flu than in adults with flu.

Flu complications

COVID-19

Additional complications associated with COVID-19 can include:

Blood clots in the veins and arteries of the lungs, heart, legs or brain

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) and in Adults (MIS-A)

Long COVID is a range of symptoms that can last weeks or months after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 or can appear weeks after infection. Long COVID can happen to anyone who has had COVID-19, even if their illness was mild, or if they had no symptoms.

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