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San Diego Unified test scores decline, district officials cite pandemic as one cause

board of education building.jpg
Milan Kovacevic
The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education building is shown in this photo, Sept. 15, 2017.

Students in the San Diego Unified School District either meeting or exceeding state standards in English language arts and mathematics declined by 4% and 7.4%, respectively, since 2019, district officials announced Monday.

The figures come from the California Smarter Balanced Assessments, which reflect the academic performance of students amid the pandemic.

"As a school community, we need to adopt a new mindset when we review the assessment results, which are a snapshot during unprecedented times," said Deputy Superintendent Fabiola Bagula. "What is important is how we respond when we begin to discuss the results. This means not blaming our students, not blaming our teachers, not blaming ourselves."

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The CSBA results provide baseline data on student achievement, and are among several measures San Diego Unified relies on to gauge academic performance, a district statement read. The data is intended to help inform the district's efforts to meet the needs of all students amid the pandemic and going forward.

"These results allow us to further understand the strengths and needs of our students," said Superintendent Lamont Jackson. "We need to ask questions to better understand how we can support our students, and create learning conditions that are grounded in equity so all students can succeed.

"San Diego Unified is committed to helping our students recover — with both academic and social-emotional support — so that all children have the ability to thrive at school," he said.

Other data points from the results include:

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— English language arts (ELA) scores for students with Individualized Education Plans increased 2.3%;

— Test scores declined for economically disadvantaged students by 4.1% in ELA and 7.7% in math;

— Scores declined for non-economically disadvantaged students by 5.8% in ELA and 9.4% in math;

— Test scores declined for English learners by 2.3% in ELA, and by 5.6% in math; and

— Scores declined for English-fluent students by 4.4% in ELA and 7.9% in math.

Board of Education President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne said the pandemic exacerbated existing trends in student performance, and "reinforced the need to focus on the whole child."

"All of us have been impacted by the pandemic. However, some students and families have been affected more than others," she said. "We cannot forget that many of our students are still grieving for the family members, caregivers, and loved ones they lost to COVID-19.

"Our work will focus on the whole child, and all members of our San Diego Unified community must rally to support our students and staff to ensure students feel a sense of belonging and can reach their full potential," Whitehurst-Payne said.

But San Diego Unified is not alone in these trends, a district release reminded. State standardized test results mirror academic performance trends nationwide following the pandemic, including the recently released results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The district touted some of its actions intended to help students recover from learning loss and the pandemic, including:

— Expanded early education programs, including universal transitional kindergarten;

— Extended learning opportunities outside the classroom;

— Subject-area supports for science, technology, engineering arts, mathematics and literacy;

— Expanded visual and performing arts instruction and opportunities; and

— A priority on standards based learning, teaching and grading.

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