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Making the Grade

Making the Grade

How to Help Your Child Raise Their Test Scores

By Everett Catts

“Learning loss”is a term that’s used to describe a decrease in academic skills—the kind that students often experience during summer break.

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to switch from in-person classes to online instruction in 2020, many students experienced learning loss due to the disruption of their school routine and the challenges of adjusting to remote learning. And although schools have long since resumed in-person learning, traditional measurements of academic progress have continued to decline.

Four years later, how have Atlanta-area children been affected? What are public and independent schools doing to address learning loss? And what can you do to help your child succeed academically?

How Bad Is the Issue?

The main standardized test that Georgia uses to measure academic achievement or decline in its public schools is the Georgia Milestones Assessment System. Educators saw a drop in reading and math scores on the Milestones test during the pandemic.

According to the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE)’s website, in the winter 2019 end-of-course Milestones test, which was given in February 2020, at least 65.5% of students in grades 3-8 scored at their grade level or above in all reading and English classes. At least 65.9% of students in grades 3-8 scored at the developing learner and above level in all math classes.

In the 2020-2021 academic year, those scores dropped to at least 57.6% for reading and English and 61.4% for math. The following academic year saw some improvement, with scores rising back up to at least 69.1% for reading and English and 58.9% for math. Testing at the end of the 2022-23 school year showed that scores dropped again, declining to at least 67.4% for reading and English and 58.1% for math.

Meghan Frick, GDOE’s director of communications, says that students’ learning loss on the Milestones test wasn’t that bad, but there’s still room for improvement.

“Those decreases were not as large as we initially expected,” she says. “However, there were decreases in scores. We have seen them slowly rebound, but we’re not where we need to be yet.”

Matt Cardoza, GDOE’s director of external affairs, says the state has other methods besides the Milestones test to measure students’ performance, namely the SAT, the ACT, and the Career and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI).

Students at independent schools also saw a drop in performance, but not to the same extent as their public school counterparts. This is partly because they returned to in-person classes in August 2020, before most public schools did.

Michelle Marriott, director of admissions at Heritage Preparatory School in Atlanta, says the school’s students didn’t experience learning loss because it used remote learning only for the last two months of the 2019-20 school year.

Kelly Swanson, dean of academics at Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw, says its students had difficulties because they weren’t used to remote learning. But by returning to in-person classes as soon as possible, the issue was minimized.

Similarly, learning loss at Woodward Academy in College Park saw only “a very slight drop in standardized test scores” by returning to in-person classes in August 2020, says Connie White, director of learning design.

What Are Schools Doing About It?

Georgia’s public K-12 schools received $5.2 billion in federal funds from three COVID-19 relief laws: the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security (CARES) Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). But with the last of those federal funds going away on Sept. 30 (unless recipients get an extension), the state is allocating millions to continue to address students’ learning loss.

Georgia is spending $117.7 million to continue programs that will end later this year when the last of those pandemic relief funds expire. Most of those state funds will go toward programs that were tied to addressing learning loss. Those programs include tutoring, formative assessments and support for educators, a focus on literacy, and school improvement.

Independent schools have employed similar tactics to tackle the issue. Mount Paran had teachers at all grade levels “review and reteach previously taught concepts so that students could build upon those foundations,” Swanson says. Teachers are “focusing on basic skills and differentiating our instructional practices to meet the students where they are” to develop positive relation- ships with students to assess each one’s level of need and then improve their scores.

At Woodward, teachers worked over the last summer to formulate a plan to offer “remediation and enrichment opportunities” during the school year for students who needed help, White says. The school has seen students’ grades and scores improve “across the board,” and a heightened focus on student-teacher relationships has also helped accomplish those goals.

What Can You Do to Help?

If you feel a school isn’t doing enough to help your child, you do have options, Frick says.

“We encourage parents to engage with their child’s school and school district to discuss their concerns and work together on a solution,” she says. “They can bring their concerns to their child’s teacher, principal, district superintendent or locally elected school board representative. They may also contact GaDOE with questions at”
“One of the things parents can do is stay abreast of where their children are in terms of academic success,” says Cliff Jones, chief of staff for Fulton County Schools. “There’s nothing more important than knowing what skills your child has mastered and what skills they’re having some problems with. That really goes to reaching out to the teacher, having that two-way conference.”

Mount Paran’s Swanson says parents of younger children should read to them often to increase curiosity and to make learning fun. Also, she says, Mount Paran urges parents to partner with their children’s teachers “to maximize learning at all grade levels.”

Woodward’s White, meanwhile, offers six strategies parents can use to help their children improve their grades or test scores:

  • Provide a structured routine to help children learn to manage their time.
  • Create a conducive study environment that is quiet and free from distractions.
  • Encourage reading by providing access to a variety of books and reading materials.
  • Limit screen time and encourage children to engage in regular physical activities.
  • Engage in educational activities such as visiting museums, libraries and cultural events to enhance their understanding of and interest in a variety of subjects.
  • Foster a growth mindset by praising effort and persistence over innate ability.

Every child’s situation is different, but by maintaining an open line of communication with your child’s teachers and giving your young learners the support they need, you can help them improve their academic performance and put them in the best position to succeed.

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