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Decline in Aspire test scores reflect COVID-19 learning challenges in Arkansas schools

The Arkansas Department of Education released preliminary test results for 2021, showing drops in every grade level and in every subject across Arkansas.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — If we doubted it before, test results show it through the numbers out this week. The pandemic drastically affected student learning throughout the state. 

This week the Arkansas Department of Education released the preliminary test results for the Spring 2021 state-required exam for 3rd through 10th grade. 

Those declining scores didn't come as a shock according to Stacy Smith, Deputy Commissioner of Division of Elementary and Secondary Division.

"We were expecting to see a decrease in our scores due to COVID and we did see that," she said.

The 2020 Aspire test was canceled after a year filled with virtual learning, quarantine, and hybrid classrooms. Smith said the test results for 2021 show drops in every grade level and in every subject across Arkansas. 

"We're not trying to assess because we want to rank everybody or sort everybody," she said. "This is an opportunity for us to see how we were really impacted by COVID."

Smith said across the four subjects of math, science, english, and literacy: the biggest drop was in math throughout all grade levels. 

Compared to 2019, the math scores dropped between 8 to 15% depending on the grade level.

"That's an area where we are definitely going to have to spend some time on and do some intervention with," she said.

Consistently, the grade level with the biggest decline was 3rd grade. 

Despite that, there still some victories according to Smith. 

"In the state of Arkansas for kids enrolled in public education, 97% of the students in grades 3rd through 10th participated in the test," she said.

Smith said the state received $1.27 billion as part of the American Rescue Plan, and 90% of those funds go to the district.

"Part of the funding is supposed to go to instruction and closing the gap and identifying kids who had loss," she said.

To ensure there isn't a repeat come next year, Smith said the Department of Education is using their funding to work on projects for development in pre-school, mental health resources for faculty and students, and supporting an Arkansas Tutoring Corp. 

"With this last school year you did have pivots, you did have some type of schooling situations where you had some completely digital," Smith said. "So there just wasn't that consistency in a normal school year.

The Arkansas Tutoring Corp will look for tutors, specifically in math and literacy, to help kids around the state. 

Smith said we'll see that project roll out in the next few months.