The pandemic’s educational toll


Testing results indicate more than 50% of Hart district students did not meet state standards

In late October the California Department of Education released its 2021-22 assessment data, which showed that more than 50% of William S. Hart Union High School District students did not meet state standards for science and math.  

According to a statement from the Hart district, which officials released in October, the overall results for the 2021-22 school year indicated 45% of high school students are meeting or exceeding state standards — compared to 27% and 29% of students in Los Angeles County and in the state, respectively. 

The Hart district’s student achievement in English language arts declined by approximately 4 percentage points, in math, student achievement dropped by almost 11 percentage points, and in science student achievement rose by less than a percentage point compared to results from the 2018-19 school year. 

The 2021-22 California assessment results indicated, by all grade levels, approximately 31%, 58% and 55% of Hart district students did not meet state standards for English, math and science, respectively. 

“It clearly shows that things weren’t the same. Obviously, things changed so quickly. We were making constant changes to what was going on in our community and, actually, the world,” Michael Vierra, the district’s deputy superintendent of educational services, said in response to how the height of the COVID-19 pandemic affected student learning. 

“Yeah, definitely impacted the student-learning process,” he added. “Although there’s decline in our achievement data from a few years ago, it was understandable.” 

Vierra said a positive aspect to take away from the experience of teaching during a pandemic was the overall response from district staff. Educators were adaptable, did a tremendous job amid uncertainty, and focused on supporting students, he added.  

These exams are officially known as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CASSPP system, which includes the Smarter Balanced assessment system, the California Science Test, the California Alternate Assessments for special education students, and the optional California Spanish Assessment.  

In spring 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the state Department of Education canceled CAASPP assessments while in 2021 only one in four eligible students took the tests because not all students were back on campuses.  

However, as the 2021-22 school year seemed to mark a return to some normalcy, nearly all eligible students participated, making these results a key data point for understanding widespread pandemic-triggered learning loss in California. 

Educators across the nation had anticipated a decline in student achievement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, and as indicated by results from all grade levels, approximately 53%, 67% and 71% of California students did not meet state standards in English, math and science, respectively.  

According to the Department of Education, the percentage of California students meeting state math standards plummeted 7 percentage points and English language standards dropped 4 percentage points compared to results from the 2018-19 school year.  

“A comparison with the data from the state’s 2021-21 ELA and mathematics assessments suggest that recovery may already be underway,” reads a prepared statement from the Department of Education regarding the 2021-22 assessment data.   

In spring 2021, about 25% of students in grades three through eight and 11, about 740,000 students, participated in the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments for ELA and mathematics. Assessment results from students who participated in that exam, compared to their results in 2022, showed “steeper-than-normal” achievement gains at most grade levels, according to the Department of Education. 

The state provided school districts with additional resources to help students beyond 2024, when federal relief funding is set to expire.  

“Through the $7.9 billion Learning Recovery Block Grant available to schools in this year’s state budget, $4 billion in the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program and $250 million for literacy coaches for our most vulnerable students,” reads the statement. “The CDE will continue to work with schools so they identify the right tools and resources to address academic, behavioral and mental health needs.” 

Hart district 

In the Hart district, the Department of Education reported 2,949 seventh-graders, 3,143 eighth-graders and 3,741 eleventh-graders took the 2021-22 CAASPP exams.  

In the Smarter Balanced test for English language arts/literacy, approximately 34% of eighth-graders and about 26% of 11th-graders did not meet state standards. In the Smarter Balanced test for mathematics, approximately 57% of eighth-graders and about 61% of 11th-graders did not meet state standards.  

Approximately 55% and 52% of eighth- and 11th-graders did not meet state standards for the science assessment. 

“I anticipated that the results would be lower than what we hoped for because of COVID-19,” said Bob Jensen, governing board member representing Trustee Area No. 2. “This was anticipated across the nation… and sure enough when the test scores came out, they were indicative of that concern.” 

“But I am pleased that our schools, students and teachers performed extremely well in dealing with an unprecedented situation,” he added. “Our scores bear that out because if you compare our scores to (the Los Angeles Unified School District) and other school districts in L.A. County, we were heads and shoulders above them.” 

Hart district students overall fared much better in understanding English standards while they struggled in mathematics, according to the CAASPP results, which reflected a nationwide trend. 

“It’s hard to generalize across the district except to say that in math we noticed more of a gap than in English language arts,” Vierra said. “That’s what we’ve been putting a lot of our time into — is trying to get our math teachers together and work specifically in that area.” 

“That’s fairly consistent with other districts that I’ve either read about or talked to,” he added. “It seems like math has had the biggest impact during the pandemic.” 

When the exam was last administered in the 2018-19 school year, CAASPP results indicated, overall, that approximately 27%, 47% and 56% of students did not meet state standards for English, math and science, respectively.  

“Pandemic disruptions presented countless challenges for students, staff and families of the Hart district,” Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said in a prepared statement. “Despite the dedicated work of our community members, student assessment results have shown some declines as compared with previous ‘normal’ school years.” 

Comparing Hart to Los Angeles and Ventura counties 

While CASSPP data indicated Hart district students’ achievement declined, the district’s students are in a better position than those in nearby school districts.  

In Ventura County, approximately 56% and 49% of eighth- and 11th-graders did not meet state standards for English, and approximately 73% and 75% of eighth- and 11th-graders did not meet state standards for math. 

Approximately 73% and 61% of eighth- and 11-graders did not meet state standards in science, according to CAASPP results. 

In Los Angeles County, approximately 53% and 46% of eighth- and 11th-graders did not meet state standards for English, and approximately 71% and 74% of eighth- and 11th-graders did not meet state standards for math. 

Approximately 73% and 70% of eighth- and 11th-graders did not meet state standards in science, according to CAASPP results. 

Although overall assessment results indicate a decline in student performance, there are pockets of growth for some student groups or specific school sites. District officials noted student achievement increased for English and math for different school sites, and for English learners in areas of science. 

Moving Forward 

Vierra said the district uses the data a guide for initiatives done as a district or even at an individual school site. He also reiterated that the California assessment results are just one piece of the puzzle.  

District staff and teachers collect individual data such as test and quiz scores, quality of work, grades and more as a way to gauge how students are understanding the lessons.  

“We’ve been reviewing, upgrading our technology database so that it’ll be very easy for our teachers to access,” Vierra said. “They could look at an individual student to look at where there may be some strengths or some deficiencies.” 

In addition, the district has instituted its strategic plan, which details a list of best practices to better support all stakeholders. As part of the plan, the district is working to refine its internal assessments, which can be used to identify student needs and progression while creating opportunities for staff to develop ways to meet certain goals. 

Vierra said the district was able to support students through the height of the pandemic because teachers and staff were so quick to transition to remote learning. With some help from the WiSH Foundation, the district was also able to provide technology and hotspots to students.  

District staff provided ongoing tutoring sessions online. Then slowly as students returned back to campus, the district was able to provide more programs to accelerate learning or support students who needed more help catching up. 

According to Vierra, the California assessments are an accountability piece. Though there might be some disagreement as how education leaders measure student achievement, these tests provide important data, he added. 

“There is worry about teaching to the test, but if the test matches what we want the student to know then we believe that any data that we can get, is data that we can use,” Vierra said. “The thing about it is that it can’t be the only measurement.” 

Jensen reiterated that the assessment results are not where district officials would like them to be, but he celebrated the results because it showed that the district was able to mitigate the negative effects caused by the pandemic on student learning.  

He thanked everyone at the district for ensuring that success. He’s also optimistic about the future. 

“I think that we’re going to see significant increases, sooner than later,” Jensen said. “We’re going to be back on track with where we were before the pandemic. People are going to be pleased with the results that they see because of the hard work, dedication and effort put forth by our teachers, administration and staff.” 

If you are interested in taking a mock CAASSP assessment to see how you might fare, visit

Graphic by The Signal Staff

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