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This editorial was originally published in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, and was distributed by The Associated Press.

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Many of the woes in West Virginia’s public education system will be laid at the feet of COVID-19. The state has already seen that happen with the latest state assessment scores, as Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch has referred to 2020-21 as a “learning loss” year for students.

He’s absolutely right in one sense — COVID-19 and the remote platforms many counties utilized dealt a near knockout blow to our state’s public education system, with slightly more than one-fourth of all tested students showing proficiency last year in mathematics. But a look at the assessment data prior to 2020-21 shows West Virginia already was on the ropes when it came to measuring what students learn in class.

Consider these figures:

n For the 2016-17 school year, 34% of all tested students — those in grades three through eight and grade 11 — were proficient in mathematics. Proficiency in reading was at 48%.

n For the 2017-18 school year, math proficiency rose slightly to 37%, while reading proficiency fell to 45%. Science was added to testing that year, with 37% of tested students proficient.

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The following year, 2018-19, was the last year for testing prior to the pandemic, as testing for 2019-20 was canceled due to COVID-19.

n In 2018-19, for mathematics, 39% of tested students were proficient; for reading, that figure was 46%; and for science, one in three students met proficiency.

Then comes last year’s testing. Statewide, for 2020-21, student proficiency in math was 28%; reading, 40%; science, 27%.

Just what is the problem with our state’s education system? While numbers plummeted during COVID-19, let us not fool ourselves into believing scores were acceptable in prior years.

How can West Virginia reverse decades of population loss when the state can’t even come up with a good system to ensure our children are properly educated? Education is a key driver to improving a state’s economy; judging by these numbers, West Virginia has plenty of work to do.

The state must do better for its children.

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