Spring test results are in, and K-12 test scores are experiencing a small bounce back after significant declines stemming from the pandemic.

Overall, 37.7% of students across the state and across grade levels reached math standards this spring, and 50.7% reached English standards. That’s a 7-point increase in math, and a 3-point boost in English compared to scores from testing done in the fall of 2021

More students also took the test in the spring, with participation rates around 94% across grade levels in math and English — that’s a boost of about 3 percentage points compared to the fall of 2021, though still lower than the 97% participation rate the state saw in 2019. 

Still, schools have a long way to go to get back on a par with scores from 2019, when the state saw 48.8% of students meeting standards for math and 59.6% for English.

Federal rules require states to administer annual exams to receive federal funding and for accountability purposes. That requirement was waived in 2020, and flexibility was granted in 2021 — which meant Washington students who took exams that year experienced a shorter test and took their assessments in the fall instead of the spring. 

The state administers Smarter Balanced Assessments to students in grades three through eight, as well as in 10th grade. Students don’t necessarily have to pass them in order to receive a high school diploma, though students can use a passing score from their high school exams to meet part of the state’s new graduation pathway requirements.

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In an interview ahead of the school year, Superintendent Chris Reykdal said assessment data gives a sense of the big picture, not what’s happening on an individual classroom level. “I’m just never going to believe that this assessment that we use gives families good information nor educators good information,” he said. 

Overall, the newly unveiled score data shows the beginnings of students’ academic recovery. “There was a dip … there’s been progress in gaining some of that back,” said Deb Came, assistant superintendent of assessment and student information at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

“In all areas almost uniformly we saw an increase from fall to spring,” Came said. There was one exception: the sixth grade English Language Arts test had “some unusual results, so we’ll be looking into that more carefully,” Came said. 

The sixth grade English scores were lower than they were last fall, and OSPI is looking at whether that could be attributed to the assessment itself, or whether other factors — like student mental health needs or the difficult nature of transitioning to middle school, especially during a pandemic — played a role.

Results also vary across schools, and several local districts fared better than the state average, including Seattle Public Schools, where 62.7% of students met state standards in English and 51.6% of students met standards in math. 

But the pandemic also widened gaps between different student groups. According to data released last month from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the pandemic set back two decades of progress on test scores, with some of the biggest impacts felt by Hispanic and Black students. State level data from NAEP is not yet available. 

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Came said educators will now examine the data closely to figure out what supports are needed and where — though she made a point to note the circumstances around testing during the pandemic will be vastly different as schools face fewer COVID-19 restrictions and other unknowns.

“We want to dig into the data and look at it and see it and understand where the challenges are but also remembering it in the context of the big picture of the pandemic and other world events,” she said.

But OSPI is also looking more closely at individual level student growth, year to year, to get a better sense of how quickly students are learning — not just whether or not they’re reaching proficiency in their current grade level. Came said this analysis will provide a more comprehensive picture, allowing the state to track students’ progress even if they have yet to reach grade level standards.