ST. PAUL — State testing scores for Minnesota school students declined in 2021, according to new state Department of Education Data, shedding new light on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on learning.

Department officials pledged in response Friday, Aug. 27, to help students recover from disruptions to their education.

"As we head into a new school year, MDE stands ready to partner with our educators, school leaders and staff as they work to accelerate learning and provide social-emotional and mental health support for our students," Department Commissioner Heather Mueller said in a statement.

Test scores published Friday reflect the challenge of teaching and learning amid a health crisis that drove education online. Just 53% of students who took the state reading test met or exceeded the standards for their respective grade levels, according to education department data, a decline of 7 percentage points from 2019, when the exams were last administered.

The share of students meeting or exceeding their grade-level standards for math, meanwhile, declined by nearly 11 percentage points in that time to 44%.

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At a virtual news conference Friday, Mueller stressed that the assessments serve as only one measure of student achievement, but said data for 2021 "is certainly helpful in understanding where our students are at and where additional support is needed at a system-level across the state." Skewing the results somewhat are a number of families who opted out of the tests last year.

Students take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments and Minnesota Test of Academic Skills for math and reading from third to eighth grade and once in high school. Science MCA and MTAS exams are normally given to fifth and eight grade students and once to high schoolers and were also marked by poorer performance in 2021.

Approximately 43% of students who took the science exams met or exceeded their grade-level standards, a decrease of 8 percentage points.

While assessment scores decreased across all student demographic groups in 2021, according to the Department of Education, they dropped precipitously among students of color. Additionally, just 9% of students learning English who took assessments for their progress met or exceeded their grade-level standards, down 3 percentage points from 2019.

In an interview Friday with MPR News, Gov. Tim Walz said the results highlighted gaps in student learning that likely existed prior to the pandemic but that were exacerbated by having students out of the classroom for months. He said summer school programming and additional measures to catch students up in the coming academic year likely would help close some of the learning gaps.

"This gives us a real opportunity to personalize education … we've got work to do but the proposals are there," Walz said.

Remedial efforts will take the form of an initiative Minnesota education officials announced Friday called COMPASS, or Collaborative Minnesota Partnerships to Advance Student Success. Through that program, teachers and other school workers can receive additional training and support from the education department, the Minnesota Service Cooperatives and the Minnesota Regional Centers of Excellence.

"We are offering it to everyone across the state, every public school across the state, and then they have the opportunity to opt in," Mueller told reporters Friday.

According to a fact sheet on the program published Friday, information on specific training and support opportunities will be released in September.