Department of Education data shows lasting challenges of COVID

By: - December 27, 2021 10:00 am
Rear view of students sitting with hands raised in classroom

A teacher stands in front of a classroom as students raise their hands. (Photo by Getty Images)

Iowa schools reported rising enrollments and declining test scores in 2021, as students and teachers recover from disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Education released several reports this month which gauge how Iowa schools have recovered from widespread disruptions in the spring and fall of 2020. The state found that over two dozen schools had fallen from top rankings based on standardized test scores, and more had dropped to the lowest two categories. 

But, more students have enrolled in Iowa schools after a significant drop in the 2020-2021 academic year. Plus, the department released its first report on classroom violence.

2021 school rankings reflect COVID-19 challenges

Dozens of Iowa schools reported declining standardized test scores this spring, according to a new report from the Department of Education.

The Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP) is administered every spring at Iowa public schools, testing students in reading, writing and math. A full database of results is available on the Department of Education website.

In this most recent round of testing – the first since 2019 – there were six fewer schools ranked “exceptional” and 26 fewer “high performing” schools. There were also 29 more schools that ranked in the lowest two categories. 

Department of Education Director Ann Lebo emphasized that test scores are a useful measurement tool, but that they do not “tell the whole story about our schools.”

“It’s important to understand the challenges brought on by the pandemic, and to take that into account when looking at the 2021 performance scores,” Lebo said in a news release.

Each Iowa school received an index score that reflects test scores and graduation rates. The highest-scoring school in 2021 was Mitchellville Elementary, in the Southeast Polk School District, where about 90% of students tested proficient or above in English and math exams.

The top-ranking Iowa schools, based on a 2021 report. (Chart by Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The lowest-scoring schools were alternative schools in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids. These schools were created to provide specialized education for students who need additional support.

The lowest-ranking Iowa schools, based on a 2021 report. (Chart by Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Results in major Iowa cities show a gap in scores between suburban areas, which tended to rank higher than urban schools. In Des Moines, suburban high schools had an average score 10 points higher than high schools in the city, according to an Axios analysis.

Enrollment increases for 2021-2022 school year

There are 1,472 more students attending Iowa schools this year, according to a state report. There are 485,630 K-12 students enrolled in the state.

Expanding Des Moines suburbs led to increased enrollment in suburban school districts: Waukee saw the largest growth, followed by Ankeny. Meanwhile, Des Moines schools had the largest decrease in enrollment.

However, fewer students were enrolled in school this year than there were before the COVID pandemic.  In the 2019-2020 school year, there were 490,094 students enrolled in the state – about 4,500 more than are currently enrolled.

Report finds 856 students injured by peer violence

The Department of Education released its first report on school violence, as ordered by a law passed in 2020. In the 2020-2021 school year, 108 school districts reported multiple instances of violence. 

Student violence led to 1,067 injuries, 663 assaults and 586 property damage incidents during the school year. There were 1,285 students responsible for the incidents.

For scale, that means about 3 in every 1,000 Iowa students caused an incident during the academic year.

The Department of Education cautioned in the report that numbers from this school year will likely be higher as the department improves its data collection methods. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.