Wyoming test scores during pandemic better than other states

CASPER — Wyoming students fared better on standardized tests than peers in other states during the pandemic, possibly because they received more in-person schooling, a new study of 11 states found. 

The study — conducted by researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Brown University and MIT — analyzed state test scores in math and English/ language arts for grades three through eight across 11 states. Overall, the percent of students who scored proficient or above decreased by an average of 12.8 percent in math and 6.8 percent in English/ language arts between spring 2019 and 2021.

Those declines were smallest in Wyoming and largest in Virginia. Math scores in Wyoming declined by 3.7 percent and English/language arts scores by 3.1 percent between 2019 and 2021. In comparison, they declined by 34.1 and 10.1 percent in Virginia, respectively. 

Wyoming maintained in-person instruction for 86.5 percent of the school year, more than any other state in the study. Virginia maintained in-person instruction for 9.7 percent of the year, the least amount out of the 11 states. The study found that, in general, in-person schooling was more common in politically conservative areas, like Wyoming, and that areas with higher community COVID-19 infection rates were more likely to maintain in-person instruction. 

Among districts within states, those that offered less in-person instruction also had larger declines in passing test scores. According to the COVID-19 School Data Hub, which the researchers developed based on data sourced from states, Fremont County school districts 14 and 21 were the only ones in Wyoming that had fully virtual instruction during the 2020-2021 school year. The districts now have a mix of in person and virtual learning, with most instruction being in person. Both districts showed high percentages of students who scored basic or below on both math and English/language arts during the pandemic compared to most other districts. Those differences, however, were present prior to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The effects of virtual or in-person instruction on student learning were amplified, on average, in lower grades. The researchers, based on other reports, suggested this was because younger students are still developing skills for self-management. Other reports also suggest that the K-3 grades in particular are important for student success down the road. 

Wyoming has focused on these grades around the topic of literacy, passing a bill this past session intended to boost proficiency for K-3 kids in this skill. Reading is important in early grades because later grades use it to learn other material.

English/language arts scores for third graders took a hit during the pandemic. WY-TOPP and WY-ALT scores from the 2018- 2019 school year show that about 45.5 percent of students scored at a basic or below level in English/language arts. The percent increased to 48.4 percent in the 2020-2021 school year.