Week CXXXVII: National and state test results show learning loss during pandemic

— Graph from New York State comptroller’s Office
The bulk of recovery funds in New York have been spent on government services.

ALBANY COUNTY — The ravaging effects the pandemic had on education were revealed this week in both national and statewide test results.

Also this week, Albany County was, for the fourth week running, labeled by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as having a “high” — the worst of three — community level of COVID-19.

On the brighter side, figures released this week by the state’s labor department show unemployment continues to decline with Albany County, for September, having an unemployment rate of 2.8 percent. And data released by the state comptroller’s office showed tax receipts are up.

On Wednesday morning, Governor Kathy Hochul held a press conference to announce a “triple threat”: the ongoing COVID pandemic; higher than usual numbers of flu cases statewide in September; and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which has symptoms similar to those of flu and COVID.

“RSV is something we see every season,” said the state’s health commissioner, Mary Bassett, noting that this year and last year the season started earlier than usual.

Bassett told the press that, with more people indoors this time of year, and with more people socializing and fewer people wearing masks, a rise in viral infection was anticipated. Covid restrictions during the last two years had kept viral infection rates lower than usual.

Hochul cited current hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19, greatly reduced from the original Omicron peak in January, and termed those rates “stable.”

However, she also said, “People are dying every day from COVID. It’s not over.”

She urged New Yorkers to get the bivalent booster shot, which she said was “specially tailored to variants out there now.”

The CDC is reporting that three Omicron sublineals — BQ.1, BQ.1.1, and BF.7, all descendants of BA.5 — are spreading.

While BA.5 now makes up not quite half of the cases in Region 2 — New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — other sublineals are gaining ground.

BA.4.6 now makes up 10.9 percent of cases here and, of the three new descendants of BA.5, BQ.1 makes up 17.1 percent, BQ.1.1 makes up 11.3 percent, and BF.7 makes up 6.6 percent of cases.

The bivalent booster shot was designed to combat BA.4, which is now almost nonexistent, and BA.5, which still dominates nationwide but makes up just 49.8 percent of the cases in our region.

Hochul said the state had enough bivalent booster doses for 10 percent of eligible New Yorkers but only 7 percent have gotten those boosters. “What are you waiting for?” the governor asked.

She got her bivalent booster on Sept. 7 and got her flu shot at Wednesday’s press conference.


School scores

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation’s report card, was released this week by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics — the first results since the start of the pandemic.

The tests are given to a broad swath of fourth- and eighth-graders.

The national average score declines in math for fourth- and eighth-graders were the largest ever recorded in that subject. Just 26 percent of eighth-graders were proficient, down from 34 percent in 2019, while only 36 percent of fourth-graders were proficient in math, down from 41 percent.

“The results show the profound toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the size and scope of the declines are the largest ever in mathematics,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr, in releasing the results. “The results also underscore the importance of instruction and the role of schools in both students’ academic growth and their overall wellbeing. It’s clear we all need to come together — policymakers and community leaders at every level — as partners in helping our educators, children, and families succeed.”

A majority of states saw lower scores, on average, across grades and subjects since 2019. 

There were no improvements in fourth-grade reading, as average fourth-grade reading scores declined in 30 states and jurisdictions and did not change in 22. At eighth grade, reading scores declined in 33 states and jurisdictions, did not change in 18, and rose in one (the Department of Defense Education Activity).

In New York State, the proficiency levels were largely near or below the national averages.

In math, in New York State, 28 percent of fourth-graders (compared to 36 percent nationwide) and 28 percent of eighth-graders (compared to 26 percent nationwide) were proficient.

For reading scores in New York, 30 percent of fourth-graders (compared to 33 percent nationwide) and 32 percent (compared to 31 percent nationwide) were proficient.

Across both subjects and grades, higher percentages of higher-performing students (students performing at or above the 75th percentile) had access to key educational resources than lower-performing students (students performing below the 25th percentile) during remote learning in the 2020–21 school year.

This included access to a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet all the time; a quiet place to work at least some of the time; their teacher available to help with schoolwork at least once or twice a week; and for eighth-graders, real-time video lessons with their teacher every day or almost every day.

NCES also collected information on teacher confidence in performing remote instruction tasks, including addressing knowledge and skill gaps that may have occurred due to pandemic-related school closures. Fifty percent of teachers or fewer reported feeling “quite” or “extremely” confident in their ability to address learning gaps.

A study published on Oct. 11 in Educational Researcher found pandemic aid to public schools wasn’t enough to make up for learning loss.

First, write the authors,  Kenneth A. Shores, from the University of Delaware, and Matthew P. Steinberg, from George Mason University, the amount of aid was inadequate to meet policy goals.

“Second,” the authors continue, “the mechanisms used to distribute funds was disconnected from policy goals and provided different levels of aid to districts with equivalent levels of economic disadvantage. Third, data tools are missing making it difficult to understand whether funds were used to meet policy goals.”

Shores and Steinberg estimate that $700 billion will be needed to offset COVID-induced learning loss, far more than the $190 billion allocated to public K–12 schools by the federal government through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. 

The authors note that many school districts do not plan to use the majority of ESSER funds they receive to offset learning loss, and that there is little way for policymakers to know how ESSER support is being used.

“Policymakers should require, or least provide incentives to, school districts to use federal aid for remediating student learning losses,” said Steinberg in an article by the American Research Educational Association. “This is much more important than using it, for example, for new facilities construction—such as athletic fields—that have little to do with addressing the academic needs of students.”

He also said, “While the investment in ESSER was incredible in scale, it pales in comparison to the negative impact on the economy if a generation of children does not recover from what this pandemic has done to them academically.”

The New York State test results released this week show that for English Language Arts, 46.6 percent of third- through eighth-graders are at levels 3 or 4 out of four levels.

Level 1 means a student is below expectations, Level 2 means a student is working towards grade-level expectations; Level 3 means a student is meeting expectations; and Level 4 means a student is exceeding expectations.

Asian students did the best with 69 percent at levels 3 or 4, compared to white students at 52 percent, and Black or Hispanic students at 36 percent.

For math test results in New York State, just 38.6 percent of all third- through eighth-graders were at levels 3 or 4. Again, Asian students scored highest with 67 percent at levels 3 or 4 compared to 47 percent of white students, 24 percent of Black students, and 26 percent of Hispanic students.

Those who struggled the most were students with disabilities and English language learners, with percentages below 16 in levels 3 and 4 for both math and English. Economically disadvantaged students also struggled with 37 percent scoring at levels 3 or 4 in English and 28 percent in math.

Results from local school districts include:

— At Berne-Knox-Westerlo, 312 students were tested in English and 310 in math with fewer than 1 percent declining to be tested;

— At Voorheesville, 576 students were tested in English with 13.7 percent refusing and 576 were also tested in math;

— At Guilderland, 2,259 students were tested in English with 6.8 percent refusing and 2,259 were also tested in math.


Tax credits for small businesses

Applications are now being accepted from small businesses that have completed the state’s pre-screening process to become certified for the COVID-19 Capital Costs Tax Credit Program, which supports companies that made investments to comply with emergency orders and regulations or to increase public safety in response to COVID-19.

Eligible COVID-19-related costs include, but are not limited to supplies to disinfect or protect against COVID-19 transmission, costs associated with expanding or defining space to accommodate social distancing, equipment for air ventilation, expenses related to increased outdoor activity and outdoor space expansions, and machinery and equipment to facilitate contactless sales.

Tax credits will cover half of eligible costs, up to $50,000, for a maximum tax credit award of $25,000, and credits will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis until program funds are depleted.

Eligible businesses must operate a location in New York State, have 100 or fewer employees, $2.5 million or less of gross receipts in the 2021 tax year, and at least $2,000 in eligible costs between Jan. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022.

Applications will be accepted through March 31, 2023. To claim a tax credit for their 2022 tax return, businesses must apply soon to receive a tax credit certificate from Empire State Development on or before Dec. 31, 2022. Tax credits issued on or after January 1, 2023 can be claimed on a business's 2023 tax return.

More information about eligibility and qualifying expenses, is available online at www.esd.ny.gov/covid-19-capital-costs-tax-credit.


More jobs

New York State’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased from 4.7 percent in August to 4.3 percent in September, 2022, according to data released this week from the state’s labor department.

For the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, the unemployment rate decreased from 3.6 percent in September 2021 to 2.8 percent this September.

Albany County’s unemployment rate this September was 2.8 percent.

The Bronx is the only county in New York State where the unemployment rate is 6 percent or greater while in Brooklyn (Kings County) the rate is between 5 and 5.9 percent. In New York, Queens, and Richmond counties the rate is between 4 and 4.9 percent.

For the rest of New York State, the unemployment rate is below 4 percent.

Also this week, the labor department released figures on the number of jobs statewide. The number of private-sector jobs increased over the month by 17,400, or 0.2 percent, to 8,061,500 in September 2022.

The number of private-sector jobs in the United States also increased by 0.2 percent in September 2022.

New York State’s private-sector jobs (not seasonally adjusted) increased by 361,400, or 4.7 percent, over the year in September 2022, which exceeded the 4.2-percent increase in the number of private-sector jobs in the U.S.

From August to September 2022, New York State’s labor force (seasonally adjusted) decreased by 36,600. At the same time, the labor force participation rate went down from 60.5 percent in August 2022 to 60.3 percent in September 2022.

The sector that saw the largest percentage increase over the year in jobs was leisure and hospitality at 10 percent, with a net increase of 79,400 jobs. Professional and business services saw a 6.8 percent increase with a net increase of 87,100 jobs while education and health services saw a 4.2 percent jump, with a net increase of 85,700 jobs.


Comptroller Updates trackers

 The state’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, announced this week that the COVID-19 Relief Program Tracker, which follows federal relief funds received during the pandemic and monitors programs offering assistance to New Yorkers most severely impacted by the pandemic, has been enhanced to include a new program, expand the visual elements, and provide a more detailed breakdown in data downloads. 

The New York City Economic and Fiscal Monitoring tracker was also recently updated with new information that examines how important industries in New York City are recovering.

“Our job is to follow the money and ensure funds are used appropriately and administered efficiently,” DiNapoli said in a statement, announcing the updates.


Tax receipts up

State tax receipts totaled $58.4 billion through the first half of State Fiscal Year 2022-23, exceeding the latest projections from the First Quarterly Update by $2.4 billion, according to the September State Cash Report released by DiNapoli.

“Tax collections continued to run ahead of projections through September,” DiNapoli said. “However, there are economic uncertainties and risks that may impact revenue in the months ahead. Bolstering rainy day reserve funds on or ahead of the schedule proposed in the Enacted Budget Financial Plan should be a priority,” said DiNapoli in a report releasing the results.

Personal income tax receipts totaled $33.2 billion and were $2.4 billion above the state Division of the Budget’s latest financial plan projections through Sept. 30. However, income-tax receipts were $2.6 billion lower than the same period in SFY 2021-22.

Year-to-date consumption and use tax collections totaled $10.3 billion, including $9.5 billion from the sales tax, which were 5.3 percent or $518.2 million higher than the same period last year. Business taxes totaled $12.9 billion, or double the amount collected through last September, but $560.2 million below Division of Budget’s latest financial plan projections.

The state’s General Fund ended September with a balance of just under $50 billion, $4.8 billion higher than projected by the Division of Budget and $30 billion higher than last year at the same time.


Albany County numbers

This week, Albany County’s 137th of coping with the coronavirus, the governor’s office reported four more county residents had succumbed to the virus: Two COVID-related deaths were reported on Oct. 21 and two more on Oct. 25.

However, the county’s dashboard, as of Tuesday night, still shows a death toll of 589: 285 males and 304 females.

As of Oct. 25, according to Albany County’s COVID dashboard, the seven-day average for hospitalized COVID patients was 37.57 — slightly lower than 41.00 last week but dramatically up from 26.71 two weeks ago, 26.57 three weeks ago, 27.29 four weeks ago, 23.57 five weeks ago, and a huge increase from six weeks ago when the county’s seven-day average for hospitalized residents was 15.14.

About 36.5 percent of the Capital Region residents hospitalized with COVID this week were not admitted because of having the virus, according to a chart from the governor’s office.

While Albany County is labeled by the CDC as having a “high” community level of COVID-19, partly based on hospitalization, it is one of only 1.43 percent of counties nationwide so designated. The vast majority of counties in the United States — 81 percent — are designated as having “low” community levels.

Eighteen percent of counties nationwide, as are most of New York’s counties, are designated as having a “medium” level. Before being designated “high” four weeks ago, Albany County was labeled with a medium community level for 13 weeks. CDC guidance is to wear masks in public when the level is high.

Currently, 10 counties including Albany are labeled “high” — mostly in the northern part of the state — while 12 are labeled “low” and the rest are “medium.”

Although figures on infection rates are no longer reliable since tracing and tracking systems have been disbanded, the state dashboard shows that cases statewide and in Albany County are leveling off after two months of climbing.

Albany County, as a seven-day average, now has 17.1 cases per 100,000 of population, a significant decrease from last week’s  21.0 cases per 100,000 of population, down from 21.1 two weeks ago, 19.1 three weeks ago, 19.7 four weeks ago, the same as 17.1 five weeks ago, up from 16.3 six weeks ago, 17.0 seven weeks ago, but down from 17.3 eight weeks ago, 17.9 nine weeks ago, and 19.3 ten weeks ago and 21.8 cases per 100,000 eleven weeks ago.

This compares with 18.9 cases per 100,000 statewide, which is down from 20.3 last week, 19.9 cases two weeks ago, 21.4 three weeks ago, 23.4 cases four weeks ago and from 22.2 five weeks ago, 18.6 cases six weeks ago, 21.1 cases seven weeks ago, 23.0 eight weeks ago, 25.6 nine weeks ago, and 30.03 per 100,000 of population 10 weeks ago.

The lowest rates are now in the Finger Lakes at 14.06 cases per 100,000 population. The highest count is now in New York City at 20.00 cases per 100,000.

The numbers for vaccination in Albany County have hardly budged for several months.

As of Tuesday, 61.6 percent of eligible residents had received booster shots, according to the state’s dashboard,which oddly is down from the 61.7 percent reported last week. At the same time, 75.4 percent of county residents had completed a vaccination series, the same as last week.

This compares with 79.4 percent of New Yorkers statewide completing a vaccination series, up slightly from last week’s 79.3 percent and 79.1 percent the week before.

New Yorkers are being encouraged by the state’s health department to get bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech for anyone age 5 or older and from Moderna for those 6 or older.

To schedule an appointment for a booster, New Yorkers are to contact their local pharmacy, county health department, or healthcare provider; visit vaccines.gov; text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations.

The state’s health department is also urging New Yorkers to get their annual flu vaccine as flu season is already widespread in the state, according to the department. The flu vaccine is recommended for almost everyone 6 months and older.

With the early and aggressive spread of influenza, the annual flu shot is the most effective protection against serious illness,” said Health Commissioner Bassett in a statement on the department’s website. “The COVID-19 booster can also be administered at the same time as the flu shot to further protect your health and those around you.”

Flu season usually runs from October through May, and typically peaks between December and February. This year, the department says, cases started being reported in higher than usual numbers in September, and cases of laboratory-confirmed flu are increasing week over week with prevalence in the New York City area, the Capital District, and Central New York.

More Regional News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.