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LEARNING LOSS | Nearly 70% of Maryland Fifth and Eighth Graders not proficient in Science

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One week into the school year, hundreds of teaching positions remain unfilled. Meanwhile, the teachers in the classroom are facing an uphill battle.

The latest state test scores show students suffered staggering learning loss and have yet to recover.

Every school system had to face the decision back in 2021 of when to re-open classrooms following the Covid shutdowns.

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“We have a growing number of families who want this in-person option,” said Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises during a January 2021 news conference.

“Setting arbitrary dates, making threats holding press conferences is not the way we’re going to get to in-person learning,” said President of the Maryland State Education Association Cheryl Bost in January 2021.

The question sparked heated debates over what was best for our kids. It became health and safety versus potential learning loss.

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It’s been more than a year since every school district in Maryland returned to in-person learning. By Spring of 2022, the state had resumed normal standardized testing. And now, we’re seeing the results.

“These are all abysmal numbers,” Delegate Kathy Szeliga, who represents Baltimore and Harford Counties, told Project Baltimore.

Szeliga is a state delegate and former teacher.

“The length of time that Maryland schools were shuttered was a problem,” said Szeliga.

This past spring, Maryland students were tested in Math, English, and Science as part of MCAP, the Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program. Math and English results will not be released until early 2023. The state says it needs more time to set the standards for scoring.

But we can see how students did in science, a subject that’s become increasingly important through STEM initiatives. And across the state, numbers are down.

In fifth grade, 70 percent of the students tested did not score proficient. That means only 30 percent were proficient, a slight drop from 2018 before the pandemic hit when 32 percent tested as proficient.

When you look at individual school districts, Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, and Baltimore Counties all saw a drop in science proficiencies.

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But Baltimore City, despite a major drop in attendance during the pandemic, was the only district in our area to improve. In 2022, 8.7 percent of fifth graders tested proficient in science. That’s up from just 8 percent in 2018.

Even with the improvement from previous years, Baltimore City still had, by far, the lowest scores in the state.

“Very sad and heartbreaking that more than 90 percent of those students are not proficient in science. We really do have a crisis before us with education in Baltimore City Public Schools,” Szeliga told Project Baltimore.

Eighth-grade science scores showed similar results. Statewide 35 percent of students tested scored proficient, down from 37 percent in 2018.

Again, Baltimore City had the lowest scores in the state but was the only district in our area to see an improvement, with 12 percent of eighth graders proficient in science.

“For me, after we take this Spring’s test, that will be the new baseline for me,” State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury said during an August board of education meeting.

At the board meeting, Choudhury downplayed the results saying Spring 2022 scores should not be the new baseline because the last school year was largely impacted by Covid.

“We had a horrible Omicron in December and January. We still had quarantines. We still had masking and other things. The hope is this year is that we’re back to that feeling of normalcy,” Choudhury explained during the meeting.

“We have a real problem here in Maryland,” Szeliga told Project Baltimore.

But Szeliga says these science results should not be overlooked. If about 70 percent of fifth and eighth graders throughout all of Maryland are not proficient in science, Szeliga says we need to reassess what we’re doing in the classroom.

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“I’m sure the education bureaucrats in Annapolis will say this is why we need more money is education,” said Szeliga. “But we know just putting money into a program is not going to make a change. We need to make sure it is a quality program and that student’s education needs are being met.”

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