Learning declined unevenly during the pandemic, new Pittsburgh schools test data shows

The administration building of Pittsburgh Public Schools in Oakland. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

by Oliver Morrison, PublicSource

Young students appeared to struggle more during the pandemic to adjust to remote learning than older students in Pittsburgh, according to test data for the 2020-2021 school year released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education on Friday.

Although there was a wide range of performance, on average, elementary schools in Pittsburgh saw more than twice the decline in the percentage of students passing state end-of-course exams than the district’s high schools. 

Typically, students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 take an exam in math, science and English language arts in the spring. In 2021, the option was given to take the test in the fall. The new data includes results from both. The state tests were canceled in 2020, so this is the first data from the state in two years.

The state urged caution in interpreting results because fewer students took the tests than in typical years and some took it at a different time of year. However, a sharper decline in scores for young students is consistent with other testing data from the district.

Although the new state data shows most Pittsburgh schools saw their scores decline, there was a wide range. At Pittsburgh Morrow K-8, for example, 6% more students passed their exams on average, while at Pittsburgh Dilworth 30% fewer students passed their end-of-course exams. 

The test results were the worst for elementary math students: 21% fewer students tested at grade level or above on average at the elementary schools. And the results were best for high school biology: on average 4% more students passed the state biology exam.

Ten Pittsburgh schools saw improvements on their end-of-course science tests last year. More than 85% of students at Pittsburgh Miller K-5, for example, were at grade level or above on the end-of-course science test, compared to just 35% before the pandemic. That was by far the largest gain of any school in any subject in the district.

There were a couple positive outliers in English: Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy, Pittsburgh Montessori K-5 and Pittsburgh Miller K-5 all increased the percentage of students passing their state English tests. All the other district schools saw declines.

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