Students who attended school in person last year significantly outperformed their peers in virtual learning, according to the first look at Missouri students' test scores during the pandemic.
Overall, test scores dropped across all subjects and grade levels compared to previous years, most steeply in math.
Fewer than half of Missouri students performed at grade level or above in English (45%), math (35%) and science (37%). In spring of 2019, the last time students were tested before the start of the pandemic, 49% of students were proficient or advanced in English, 42% in math and 42% in science.
Students who primarily attended school in person far outperformed those in virtual (with online instruction) or distance (limited online instruction) learning. For example, 39% of in-person students scored at grade level in math, compared to 18% of students in distance learning.
Schools first shut down in March 2020 when cases of COVID-19 began to spread in the community, and standardized tests were canceled nationwide. Many school districts across the state started the fall 2020 semester fully online. For the last 18 months, students have experienced high rates of absenteeism from illness and quarantine, moving between virtual and in-person instruction, stress and mental health concerns, and struggles with internet access.
For those reasons, state education commissioner Margie Vandeven urged caution when analyzing the spring 2021 test scores, which came with a warning for reporters: "Making blanket comparisons to previous years’ scores is a serious misuse of this data."
The test scores will not be used for accountability measures, including school district accreditation. State education officials said the data can be helpful to understand areas of need and where to allocate federal relief funds.
Vandeven also pointed out that all students in the state can attend in person this year.
The rate of Asian students across the state testing at or beyond grade level in all subjects — 56% — nearly reached four times the rate of Black students, who had the lowest scores of any racial group. The rate of Black students at grade level dropped to 15%, compared to 21% in 2019.
Proficiency rates for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a measure of poverty, were about half those compared to their classmates.
The Missouri Assessment Program includes scores from English and math for third through eighth grades, science for fifth and eighth grades and end-of-course exams for high school seniors in English, algebra and biology. The scores are used as part of the school district accreditation process.
More than 90% of public school students participated in the tests, which were held in person last spring for the first time since 2019.
Just over half of the students who took the test primarily attended school in person last year. There were 18% of students learning virtually (with online instruction) or by distance (limited online instruction). Another 31% of students were considered hybrid, with some combination of in-person and virtual learning.
About 20% of students statewide lacked access to a computer or internet.
School district and building scores will be released later this fall.