MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As new statewide assessment results show declines in students meeting grade level standards, Minnesota is launching a support program to get learners back on track after more than a year of educational disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, the Minnesota Department of Education announced the COMPASS support system, which stands for Collaborative Minnesota Partnerships to Advance Student Success.

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In a statement, officials said the program is launching after standardized test data taken earlier this year showed declines in students meeting or exceeding grade level standards compared to 2019, the school year before the pandemic.

“The statewide assessment results confirm what we already knew—that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our students’ learning and they need our help to recover,” said Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller, in a statement. “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.”

The COMPASS system is designed to work with the Minnesota Service Cooperatives and Regional Centers of Excellence to provide students with individual help, whether it be in math, literacy or mental health support.

The standardized test data released Friday showed decreases in students meeting or exceeding grade level standards across all groups. However, certain groups, particularly Black, Hispanic, Native American, special needs students, and those eligible for free or reduced lunch, saw significant declines compared to students overall.

Of the students that took the reading assessment, a little over half met or exceeded the grade level standard, a drop of nearly 7 percentage points since 2019. In math, just 44% of students met the standards, a drop of nearly 11 percentage points. In science, students fared no better: only 43% met or exceeded standards, a drop of 8 percentage points.

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Education officials say the data in Minnesota mirrors that of other states that have publicly released assessment results.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) and Senate Education Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) released a joint statement Friday calling the drop in proficiency scores “a tragedy.”

“Mastering basic reading and math skills are essential for success in life and we are going to see the effects of this pandemic and the disaster of distance learning for a very long time,” Gazelka said. “The persistent achievement gap and these proficiency scores are in spite of historic funding for our public education system- money is not the problem.”

The Republican leaders called for more school choice for parents, educators to focus on reading and math, and removal of “political agendas” from education standards. They also pushed for legislation authored by Chamberlain that would allow parents to use state funds for private education, tutoring, or educational transportation needs in response to the pandemic.

Since schools closed to in-person learning at the start of the pandemic, there’s been concern from parents, officials and lawmakers over the impact distance learning will have on students’ development, particularly that of students of color and those from low-income households.

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This coming school year, most districts are returning to in-person learning. Some districts are mandating that students wear masks indoors due to the spread of the Delta variant, which is leading to a surge in cases and hospitalizations.