Junior Eliana Montero-Ward looks at the PSAT website. PSAT scores have dropped in Minnesota as a result of COVID-19. (Zoe Ziessman)
Junior Eliana Montero-Ward looks at the PSAT website. PSAT scores have dropped in Minnesota as a result of COVID-19.

Zoe Ziessman

Classrooms readjust post-COVID

Pandemic, PSEO, progress

November 28, 2022

As the pandemic spiked in 2020, schools were forced to pack up and shift to online learning. With a return to in-person learning, Minnesota has seen record-low test scores since COVID-19 began. The pandemic has shifted education fundamentally — particularly with academic performance and non-traditional schooling options.

Pandemic brings lower test scores

According to sophomore Ryan Steinberg, lower test scores could be attributed to students re-adjusting after COVID-19.

“With COVID-19, a lot of kids were at home for a long time. (COVID-19) made a lot of students forget what it’s like to be in a classroom and what it’s like to have a lot of assignments and have to pay attention during a long school day,” Steinberg said. “That made it challenging for kids to get their assignments in — more so than before COVID-19. Kids are still re-adjusting to being in a classroom.”

Science teacher Patrick Hartman said that test scores may have declined over COVID-19 as students committed less to studying.

“When I was teaching distance (learning), I never knew how long it was going to last, so I didn’t devote myself 100% to it. My AP test scores went down that year. They were better last year and I hope that they continue to rise,” Hartman said. “It was tough because a lot of kids were at home for a good chunk of time. Some kids forgot how to be students and dig in and for the AP course that I teach, you have to do a lot of reading and studying. That’s hard for students that have gotten used to skating by when we were at home.”

What we should do is look at the data, analyze it and learn from it and then take action to improve the data. Learning from data and taking action is important.

— Heather Mueller

According to testing coordinator Teresa Petta, test scores have been negatively affected by higher opt-out rates.

“When a student decides to opt-out, they’re still counted in test score data. When you have people opting out, it’s hurting our scores. If you took out the opt-out numbers out of the data, our scores look very good. They’re much better than some other schools in the state,” Petta said. “When you opt out at testing, you’re hurting yourself, but you’re also hurting your school district because they lose funding based on those test scores. It can put us in a position that we don’t want to be in.”

Senior Fiona Long said testing scores may be faltering due to a lack of desire to take standardized tests after COVID-19.

“A lot of colleges are going test-optional and so people don’t feel like they’re required to take standardized tests like the ACT or SAT,” Long said. “A lot of people got used to not doing work during COVID-19, so many students are behind in English and math skills that help with these tests.”

Commissioner of Education Heather Mueller said that schools should focus on learning from data to improve as a response to lower test scores.

“We saw a year where there were no tests given and where there were more opt outs. It is still important data, but it is not an indication of what a student’s outcome will truly be,” Mueller said. “The test scores are not that surprising in context and we shouldn’t dwell on the data. What we should do is look at the data, analyze it and learn from it and then take action to improve the data. Learning from data and taking action is important.”

Spike in Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) students

“Coming back from the pandemic, students have experienced so much. Some students are excited to come back to Park and others were like, ‘I’m over it.’ (They) know how to learn in different ways now — (they) know how to be independent,” Gardner said. “What we’ve been talking about with the counseling department is how to ensure students know all of the options, so that they can know what’s going to be best for them. There’s not one traditional style of learning that is going to be best for everybody.”

Assistant principal Derek Wennerberg said that the administration is focusing on encouraging students to use outside resources..

“As administrators, (we) need to be able to say, ‘how can we help facilitate those resources?’ Whether it’s within the walls through our DP program, our AP courses or PSEO courses, we need to grow. Through the pandemic, there are all these resources that are out there now at our fingertips,” Wennerberg said.

Long said that online learning during the pandemic gave her skills necessary to try asynchronous PSEO.

“I chose to do (PSEO) because I felt that I could handle college classes. The credits transfer pretty easily and will either let me graduate early from college or get me generally ahead in my credits,” Long said. “I do fully asynchronous PSEO and without COVID-19 I wouldn’t have considered myself as capable of time management. Zoom classes taught me how to manage my time properly and teach myself things that normally would be taught by my teachers.”

Counselor Barb Nelson said that COVID-19 brought an online aspect to PSEO that made it more accessible.

“Part of our teamwork is that we’re going to focus on PSEO, solely because students are able to do more asynchronous classes. Before COVID-19, most of the time (in) a PSEO class you had to (be) on-site,” Nelson said. “With people getting more comfortable with online classes and PSEO offering those classes, it makes it super accessible to students who previously didn’t have transportation. We’ve had higher and higher numbers of kids who are interested and want to do PSEO. We’ve always had a fair amount, but it’s just increased because of the accessibility.”

Junior Maggie Magdziarz-Rainey said she felt COVID-19 may have discouraged people from trying PSEO, despite the good opportunities.

“Many people didn’t want to go straight into college after the pandemic, especially with it being fully online,” Magdziarz-Rainey said. “People join (PSEO) once they learn about how much credit you can get from it. If they’re trying to do more advanced classes, it is a great opportunity. 90% of the time, colleges will accept you just because you’re showing interest. (Showing interest is) a big sign for colleges that if you tell people about how good the college is, more people will join.”

Finding a new normal

Wennerberg said the Pass/Fail grade system was important over COVID-19, but has been altered as Park tries to obtain a new normal following the pandemic.

“As we transition back, it’s never going to be the same. It’s a new normal. We should always be striving to do better for our students. There were more grading options because we were in a weird transition (and looking for) what’s best for students. That option had to be there for students that wanted to either choose that option, or maybe that was best for the whole class in some years,” Wennerberg said. “We want to make sure that we’re giving all students the best opportunity as they transition to their next step in their careers. Pass/Fail grades can give a glimpse of something that’s not accurate on transcripts (anymore). We’re trying to transition to something that’s a little bit more accurate.”

Steinberg said that he saw attendance shift over COVID-19, and that Park’s steps toward raising attendance are essential to mitigating the changes during COVID-19.

“Attendance has changed the most (over COVID-19). It seems like kids aren’t attending class as much because they fell into a habit of not signing in during online classes,” Steinberg said. “(Park) has already taken some steps toward trying to get attendance up. If those steps have been working, it can help move us in the right direction. If they haven’t been working, we should focus on trying to make sure kids are going to class. Attendance is important because that’s the way to get kids to continue to learn and make sure that test scores are rising.”

Petta said that focusing on the root cause of decreased attendance will aid Park in re-engaging kids in learning. 

“We’re trying to take a look at if students don’t want to be here, or if they’re here but not going to class. You have to get to the root. You can’t penalize them because they’re not doing what we expect them to do, there’s always a reason behind it,” Petta said. “There are things that happened during COVID-19 for older students. Some had younger siblings, so they’d have to supervise those kids. (Those kids) didn’t get to invest in their education and lost some ground there. A lot of students got jobs during COVID-19 and they decided that making money is better than school. However, it’s usually not a long term sustainable occupation.”

Mueller said that schools need to emphasize the mental health of students and look at them as individual people.

“We need to focus on the safety, health, well-being and mental health of our students. Schools and the state need to have proactive methods in-place before and after school. There has been a real focus on meeting the needs of every student, including academic learning, nutrition, physical care and mental health,” Mueller said. “Finding ways to be proactive and meeting students individually is essential. We are trying to look at students and where they are to move them to where they need to be to meet grade standards.” 

Petta said the pandemic helped people realize what changes need to be made and that those reforms will take time.

“We all have to realize that we went through something historical, not just with COVID-19 but with all the civil unrest and the veil has been pulled back. Many of us are just realizing now all the things that need to happen to make everything more comfortable, including education,” Petta said. “It’s going to take some time, but I look at our youth and I’m so impressed because they’re teaching us and showing us the way. I hope that most of (adults) are open to what they have to offer.

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