Tonight the School Board will review an audit of literacy in the district, which, data show has been decreasing slowly since 2011, and that nearly a third of first and second graders failed a state-wide reading proficiency test last Spring.
School Board member Denise Corbo (At-Large), a former teacher, was joined by John Beatty (Catoctin) and then-Leesburg District representative Beth Barts in requesting a comprehensive audit of the school division’s shortcomings. Although various test scores dipped across the state during the pandemic, Corbo said the division needed to address literacy as it analyzed COVID-related learning loss.
“Reading sets the foundation of all learning. The pandemic may be contributing to learning gaps and behavior problems in all grades. However, a contributing factor may be compounding those issues. That a large group of students never learned to read,” Corbo said.
Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) assessments are commissioned by the Virginia Department of Education to identify students at risk of reading difficulties. The test is administered to students in grades K-8. The audit of Loudoun schools offered data on first and second grade test takers during the spring test.
Of those test takers, 27% failed the PALs Spring test in 2021. In the spring 2019 test, the failure rate was 17%. The PALs data was not collected in 2020.
The PALs office does not recommend comparing failure rates across years because there were different testing conditions and test taker requirements from year to year. The PALs office also said that it established more challenging benchmarks in 2015.
The test takers last Spring might have experienced the most adverse learning and testing environment of all.
“The scores in 2020-2021 are not valid because there is no way to discern if a student was assessed remotely with assistance or in school from a distance with masks on to muffle production and hearing of sounds and letters,” according to the report.
While the failure rates from year to year might be incomparable, last year’s test reveals a stark contrast between literacy of white students and students of color.
Black and white students failed the testing at a 26% clip last year— the data show that black students failure rate to typically be about 5 percentage points heigh than white students. Hispanic students, though, failed at a 52% rate—up from 33% in 2019.
The dichotomy, in part, might be attributable to the language students speak at home. Last year, English learners failed at a 38% rate, while the failure rate for non-English learners was 22%.
Additionally, socioeconomic status appears to have a large impact on literacy. More than half of economically disadvantaged students failed literacy testing; compared to about 20% of non-economically disadvantaged students who failed last year.
The board meets a 4 p.m. and will review the audit report as an information item.