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Following national trends, N.H. student test scores declined during the pandemic

Hopkinton School District/Facebook

An analysis of recent New Hampshire test scores shows a decline in math, science and English for elementary and middle school students.

Student test scores in New Hampshire middle and elementary schools fell over the last two years, according to an analysis released by the New Hampshire Department of Education this week.

Overall, math proficiency fell by 10 percent from spring 2019 to spring 2020. English language and science scores also dipped several percentage points.

Declines fluctuated by school, grade, and geography. High schoolers had about the same English and math scores in 2021 as they did before the pandemic. But in cities, math scores among third graders plummeted to about half what they were in 2019.

Some of the variability may be connected to how long school districts remained remote. A second study commissioned by the New Hampshire Department of Education found that districts that remained remote for much of last year saw more significant declines.

The numbers follow national trends in student test scores, which decreased as many students struggled with remote learning, mental health issues, and academic disruption.

But the data is incomplete. Annual assessments were cancelled in spring 2020 when all school buildings shut down, but New Hampshire schools were required to test students in fall 2019. That data is not included in the analysis.

In spring 2021, an unprecedented number of New Hampshire students did not take the assessments. The state got about 20,000 fewer tests than normal, and it’s unclear if higher participation would have reshaped the state’s analysis.

In Nashua, for instance, only half of students took the 2021 assessments, compared to over 90 percent of students in 2019.

Stacy Hynes, a spokesperson for the Nashua school district, said that some parents may have signed a form opting out of the tests because they didn’t want their kids to miss class time after so many months learning remotely (the district was remote or hybrid for most of the school year).

Even after Nashua schools fully reopened last spring, about 40 percent of families chose to stay remote. Many of them may not have come into the building to take the assessments, Hynes said.

Several other districts with lower participation rates said this was a reflection of overall absenteeism last year, but that there are other data points - including report cards and in-class assessments - that are helping them assess learning loss.

District and school scores, as well as participation rates, can be viewed on the Department of Education’s website.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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