Students nationwide have rebounded after pandemic. But not in Oregon. Consequences could be severe –

Students around the country have shown promising signs of rebounding from the COVID era’s massive disruptions to learning, according to a first-of-its-kind multi-state analysis by researchers at Harvard and Stanford universities.

But not in Oregon.

Unlike in the 29 other states studied, Oregon students as a whole have failed to regain either reading or math skills, researchers found.

The state’s elementary and middle school students remain an average of about two-thirds of a year behind in reading compared to pre-pandemic levels and three-fourths of a year behind in math, the study found. That’s roughly two to three times the deficit faced by students nationwide, the study found.

Those dispiriting results come despite a $1.6 billion infusion of federal pandemic aid to the state’s 197 school districts. That money will run out in eight months, and most Oregon school districts have already spent most of it with little to show for it.

Oregon has focused on DIE (Diversity Inclusion Equity) initiatives, politicizing the classroom, lowering academic standards, and turning a blind eye to student misbehavior. Leaders have done just about everything they can to hamper actual learning. 

“The initial [academic] losses in Oregon were among the largest in our study,” said Thomas Kane, faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and a co-author of the study, which used state test scores from 2019, 2022 and 2023 and triangulated them against scores on a national exam given in all states in 2019 and 2022. In Oregon, Kane said, “We saw very little evidence of improvement between 2022 and 2023, whereas most states did.”

Oregon lost the most, recovered the least. Translated: We did dumb things and we’re still doing them.

Oregon’s poor performance cannot be fully explained by the fact that the state had some of the nation’s longest school closures. Students in California and Washington, where schools were closed for around the same length of time, have shown academic rebounds in math and slimmer continued losses in reading than Oregon.

Covid was an unknown contagion for much of this. Also, it needs to be mentioned that these states were among the lowest in deaths per capita from Covid. Stopping the transmission vectors—daily in person school being one of those—was a large part of that. 

State education officials could not pinpoint why Oregon students haven’t shown gains, even as students in Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi are back to performing at 2019 levels in reading and students in Alabama have hit pre-pandemic levels in math. But state schools chief Charlene Williams said Oregon needs to strengthen instruction systemwide.

“What we’ve been doing has not been working,” Williams said. “There are spaces for us to be more consistent across the board. We cannot have 197 school districts doing 197 different things.”

Or, perhaps, the state officials themselves are part of the problem. 

…In Oregon, as in most states, there was only one requirement for spending the huge dose of federal aid: 20% had to go towards academic recovery. And that was essentially meaningless, as each district was left to decide what academic recovery meant.

As a result, there was little consensus about which interventions should be classified as helping students catch up, which proved detrimental, said Sarah Pope, the executive director of Stand for Children Oregon.

“Oregon’s results are unacceptable. Our educators and children are just as talented as the educators and children in every other state,” Pope said. She decried the lack of “a statewide, focused, research-based strategy. The research is clear on what accelerates student learning, and our state didn’t insist we do that with these funds.”

Every politically-based problem in this state is owned by the Democrats. Education is just another in a long list.

Salem-Keizer, Oregon’s second-largest district, serves a high proportion of low-income students – and it received the most federal funding statewide: $97 million.

It spent the largest chunk of that, around $18 million, to keep class sizes small in early elementary school grades. That strategy was popular with both teachers and families in a district where declining enrollment would otherwise have translated to immediate job losses.

“We were working on the theory that our youngest students were the most impacted, between missing preschool and disrupted kindergarten,” said Suzanne West, Salem-Keizer’s director of strategic initiatives. “So we made the intentional decision at K-2 to employ more licensed teachers than our enrollment would dictate.

But the investment has yet to yield measurable academic gains. Only a dismal 20% of the district’s third graders scored as proficient in reading in 2023, a 1% decrease from the previous year, though the young students who got the most concentrated help have yet to age into standardized testing, which begins at grade three. Overall, Salem-Keizer students in tested grades remain a year behind pre-pandemic learning levels in both reading and math.

And now that the funding is running out, Salem-Keizer is preparing to make deep cuts in its workforce for the upcoming school year, reductions that Superintendent Andrea Castañeda has said will touch virtually every corner of every school.

It doesn’t matter how many teachers you deploy if you’re teaching them the wrong things. These results come from an inept state government department who, when confronted with the results, insists that the solution is that they be given more control.