The latest release of standardized test scores from the state’s Department of Education reveal "learning loss," a commonly used term to describe the challenges faced by students due to disruptions in their classroom instruction, has been felt widely by Kern districts across all levels.
“The pandemic has been extremely challenging on so many levels, and it was anticipated there would be a direct correlation to academic progress,” said Mary Barlow, Kern County superintendent of schools. “Our collective education community — educators, parents, and students — has worked diligently and collaboratively since the onset of the pandemic on numerous strategies to help mitigate learning gaps and we will continue to do so moving forward.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who oversaw nearly $24 billion in state funding to fight learning loss since 2020, reported a statewide silver lining was that nationally, fourth- and eighth-grade students’ reading scores remained relatively steady, on average, while most states reported declines and, statewide, scores didn’t decline as much as most other states.
"California focused on keeping kids safe during the pandemic while making record investments to mitigate learning loss and transforming our education system,” Newsom said in a statement. “While California’s students experienced less learning loss than those in most other states during the pandemic, these results are not a celebration but a call to action — students are struggling academically and we need to keep getting them the resources they need to thrive.”
Here’s how Kern County’s average and its biggest districts performed.
From Lost Hills Union in the west to Sierra Sands Joint Unified in the east, the average scores for students tested in grades three to 11 from dozens of districts for English language arts, were: 37.88 percent meeting or exceeding state standards, including 13.34 percent who exceeded the state standard. The county superintendent’s office pointed out the figure was 43.5 percent in 2019, the last year for which equivalent data is available.
The other two categories were level 1 (37.55 percent) of standard not met; and level 2, which counted 24.58 percent of students in the category of standard nearly met.
Across all grades for English language arts, the state averages were 20.5 percent of students in the highest achievement level, 4, and 26.56 percent meeting the state standard. 22.62 percent were in the “nearly met” category, and 30.33 percent were in the standard not met category, level 1.
In math, as is usually the case, the scores were lower, with 21.26 percent of Kern County students scoring at or above the state level, with 7.51 percent of students exceeding the state standard. More than half, 53.27 percent, were in level 1, and 25.47 percent in level 2.
State math scores counted 33.38 percent of students at least proficient to the state standard, with 16.06 percent exceeding the state standard. That put 66.62 percent of students either at nearly meeting the state standard (24.66 percent) or not meeting the state standard (41.96).
The county superintendent’s office also noted in its statement that, looking forward, the 2022 numbers would be considered the new baseline, and pointed to more than $65 million spent locally to “mitigate the academic and social impacts of emergencies that affect local communities, improve school responsiveness to student and family needs, and to organize school and community resources to address barriers to learning.”
Kern High School District
KHSD officials reported that 47 percent of students in the district had met the state standard in English language arts, with slightly over 19 percent in the level considered above the state standard. For math, 16.22 percent of students’ scores met the state standard.
These numbers represent a slight dip from the most recent numbers available, which were 51.14 percent meeting the state standard for English language arts and 21 percent meeting the standard for math in the 2018-19 school year, the last time these tests were administered.
KHSD officials declined to make someone available to respond to questions about students' test scores.
The school with the highest percentage of students meeting or exceeding the state standard was Liberty High, which had 67.92 percent of students meet or exceed the state standard in English language arts, with 33.27 percent exceeding the state standard. Liberty also had the highest math scores with 36.26 percent testing at or above the state standard, and 15.54 percent above the standard.
Kern Valley High had the lowest percentage of students at or above the standard in English language arts, with one-third of its students testing at least at grade level, and 12.35 percent exceeding grade level. Shafter High School had the lowest percentage of students scoring at their grade level for math, with 5.77 percent. Just over 2 percent had scores that exceeded the state standard.
Bakersfield City School District
The Bakersfield City School District has more than 29,000 students and 26.78 percent of them tested at or above the state standard for their respective grade levels in English language arts, with 8.07 percent scoring above the standard.
In math, 13.16 percent of students tested at or above the state standard, with 64.06 percent testing in the lowest level of four.
The numbers represent a nearly 10 percent decline in both subjects compared to the last available results, 2018-19, which saw 35.91 percent and 22.28 percent of students meeting the state standard English and math, respectively.
Superintendent Mark Luque held an hourslong study session with staff and the district's governing board to address concerns with the scores. He characterized the scores as disappointing, but also not surprising in consideration of all the disruptions that students and teachers have had to deal with over the last two years.
He pointed out that the scoring data was "one piece of the puzzle" that schools districts throughout the region have been working on collaboratively to address, noting students' time away from the classroom has resulted in deficits in a number of areas that school teachers and staff are working to address.
"And so it's a marathon. It's not a sprint. There's not going to be a quick fix," Luque explained. "We're gonna have to work to maximize every opportunity with our kids to support them and it starts with instructional program, what we call core instruction, but also opportunities for both intervention and acceleration for students."
The action plan to address the challenges from learning loss includes supports that will be available during breaks like summer as well, he noted.
"For students who are doing well, how are we challenging them to do better; for kids who are identified with gaps, how are we filling those gaps and closing those gaps," he said. "And that's opportunities for tutoring, after school, that is opportunities for extended learning, after school as well. That's opportunities with programs during breaks."
Panama-Buena Vista Union
The county’s second-largest elementary school district with 18,262 students reported scores above the county average, which school officials were happy about, but also scores that were not immune from learning loss.
In the most recent testing, 47.76 percent of students tested at or above the state standard for English language arts, with 19.29 percent exceeding the state standard.
These figures represented a slight dip from the last results, which had 52.6 percent of students testing at or above the standard, and 21.4 percent exceeding the standard.
In math, 29.97 percent were at or above the standard, which was down from 2018-19, when 37.34 percent were at or above the standard.
“For us, what our district has been doing is we’ve really been trying to focus on increasing training for our teachers and for our staff members,” said Kelsey Brackett, director of communications and family engagement for PBVUSD, referring to an Educator Learning Summit the district hosts before the start of each school year.
Another way the district has looked to address classroom challenges that students are struggling with after largely being away for about two years is with its programs for Positive Behavioral Intervention Strategies, she said. “We've definitely seen some positive reports when it comes to that system and … what we’ve seen from students.”
The district’s efforts to address social-emotional learning also have begun to show results, she said.
“When students are doing their best socially and emotionally,” she added, “we find that they are improving in the classroom.”
Lost Hills Union
One of the county’s smallest districts, Lost Hills Union, reversed the trend seen in many districts’ test scores after the pandemic, according to the results posted on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress website.
The 175-student district reported scores that have 39.02 percent of students at or exceeding the state standard in English language arts, with 14.02 percent exceeding the standard. For math, 29.88 percent met or exceeded the standard, and 10.98 percent of scores exceeded the standard.
Those scores represent a nearly 12 percent improvement in English language arts over the proficiency levels seen in the last exam (27.69 percent) and a nearly 17 percent improvement in math.
“Our teachers and instructional aides are real heroes. And, our students and parents are incredibly driven and resilient,” according to a statement shared by Veronica Gregory, Lost Hills School principal. “We know we have a lot more room to grow, but we are so proud of our community.”