There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted education, and the 2020-21 Kentucky School Report Card proves that.

The 2020-21 Kentucky School Report Card, which released to the public on Sept. 29, provides data on how students in respective school districts, who tested, performed academically amid a variety of COVID-19 learning disruptions. It includes data on how students scored overall on the Kentucky Summative Assessment (formerly known as K-PREP), as well as the ACT exam. It also provides the graduation rates, state assessment participation rates, rates of students who participate in Advanced Coursework, and overall response rates from students on the Quality of School Climate and Safety survey.

Assessments were administered to Kentucky students in the spring of 2021. Although the U.S. Department of Education gave states flexibilities during the administration of assessments, which included expanded testing windows and shortened assessments, state officials admitted that the results showed some regression of sorts.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass acknowledged that the results of the School Report Card were “disappointing, but not surprising,” but that is mostly due to the COVID-19 restrictions, which affected education for many students last year. He added that at least 20 percent of Kentucky students reported having some sort of education disruption during the pandemic.

“We knew these results would not be what we wanted to see, but the previous two school years saw extreme challenges,” Glass said. “We can use this information to address the gaps caused by COVID-19 disruptions and provide our students with the supports they need to be successful. This is one of a variety of tools our districts use on a regular basis to gauge where our students are.”

Glass cautioned the public about making comparisons between this data and data from previous years. This is because, he said, there were major shifts in testing conditions, compared to previous non-COVID years, as well as significant changes in the number of students taking the test, changes to the standards that these tests are measuring and changes to the structure of the assessments themselves.

“In short, these are different tests on different standards, and they were administered under unusual circumstances to fewer students,” Glass said.

Due to these factors, it is important that we take the 2020-21 School Report Card with a grain of salt. However, while we should not directly compare this year’s data with data from previous years, it is also important that we do not disregard these results in their entirety.

For the students who attended school last year and took these assessments, the results showcase their respective academic performances, which may affect them on something like the ACT exam, where the average statewide ACT composite score was 18 for 2020-21. The ACT exam is often used by colleges or universities as one of many considerations when deciding admissions. If a student scored low on their ACT exam this year and that was the only time they could take the test, then how might that score affect them when applying to colleges? Although some colleges or universities have waived the ACT requirement, due to the pandemic, it is still something to consider.

Also, these assessment results may be able to reveal just how our students across the state were impacted by the disruptions that the COVID-19 pandemic caused. If anything, we should take these results into some consideration because we must know where students are with their current academic performance. If your house burned down, you must assess the damages before beginning to rebuild, and the same can be said here.

It is also crucial that we take these results into account when discussing the future of Kentucky, and particularly Eastern Kentucky, because these results may reveal some disparities that currently exist in Kentucky between rural and marginalized families, as compared to more urban, well-off families. Many students faced difficulties with their access to broadband and technology during the past school year because school districts, as well as the state, were not prepared to make difficult transitions to all-virtual learning.

Kentucky’s average for broadband access is 72.9 percent, and most Eastern Kentucky counties are between 60 percent and 70 percent, including Pike, Floyd, Letcher, Knott, Perry, Martin, Johnson and Magoffin. About 24 counties across the state only have between 50 percent and 60 percent access to broadband, on average, and two counties (McCreary and Knox) have between 40.7 percent and 50 percent access on average, according to the Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky. Based on this information, there are still existing disparities in the access of reliable broadband across the state, and those disparities may have played a role in the scores of many Kentucky students.

Therefore, if the students faced difficulties while trying to access virtual learning, then that may have contributed to a decline in their ability to learn and score higher on the state assessment, as well as the ACT exam, which all Kentucky juniors take in the spring every year.

Although many factors make it irresponsible to directly compare this year’s results to those of previous years, it is still important for us to take these results into account. If we do not, then we may never be able to fully understand how to rebuild from this pandemic and move forward.