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As test scores plummet, comptroller says New York fourth-graders need immediate support

A national assessment shows that average test scores for elementary students across the country are down since 2019, but New York state schools saw an even steeper decline.

This comes just as districts grapple with looming expiration dates of COVID-19 relief funds.

An assessment called the Nation’s Report Card shows that the average test scores of fourth-graders in New York state had dropped at twice the national average from 2019 to 2022. The same assessment showed that eighth-graders in the state performed better than the national average in math and showed no change in reading scores during that time period.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said it is urgent that students who are behind in assessments get the help they need to get on track with their learning.

“If they're not going to have the basic skills in reading and math developed successfully early on, you know, then that sets up the potential for at the very least unfulfilled potential, at the very worst some real failures,” DiNapoli said.

DiNapoli is calling on the state Education Department to provide guidance to districts on how to best use pandemic aid funds before they run out.

A NYSED spokesperson said in a statement that the department had been working with districts since the beginning of the pandemic to address students’ “unique learning needs” and has provided “extensive” guidance.

Eamonn Scanlon, education policy director at The Children’s Agenda, said the kinds of supports that students need, like tutoring and social-emotional help, are costs that would require a longer timeline than the relief funds currently offer.

“The difficulty is that because there is a very short timeline, and these dollars should be spent through the end of this year, we're not going to have the kind of stability to hire positions that can really have an impact over multiple years,” Scanlon said.

Scanlon hopes there will be an increase in state foundation aid to schools in the upcoming state budget that could provide some relief to schools grappling with a steep funding drop with the end of pandemic relief dollars on the horizon.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.