We do not yet know the full effect the COVID-19 pandemic may have on school kids, but recent statewide assessment tests are a strong hint that the damage will not be minimal.

Compared to the results of state exams in 2019, the overall percentage of students who met state standards in tests administered last autumn fell by 20 percentage points on the math portion of the test. That added up to just 30% of students from grades four through 11 hitting the mark in math. Successful results in the English portion of the exam fell by nine percentage points.

Even more alarming are the results for children who live in poverty, who are less-than proficient in English or who are Black, Hispanic or Native American. Among those groups, the numbers hit even more troubling lows.

State education officials offer an important caveat: The assessment was done in the fall and tested material from the previous school year rather than on the usual spring schedule, plus a somewhat smaller number of students took part in the exams. Nevertheless, though that makes year-to-year comparisons problematic, the numbers are still the numbers — and they do not look good.

The disruptions caused by the pandemic — lost school days, classes forced online, battles over masks and vaccines — are more than a hiccup in the process of educating a new generation. Some students — especially those already handicapped by social and economic disadvantages — may never gain back the ground they have lost unless there is a monumental effort to get them back on track.

Given how public school funding always falls short of fully meeting the needs of our diverse school population even in the best of times, it is a pipe dream to think much can or will be done to make up for what has been lost. Instead, we are destined to pay for it as a society in as yet unseen ways when these COVID kids are grown up and struggling to succeed in the adult world.

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