TRI-CITIES (WJHL) – New data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show steep decline in some categories for Tennessee and Virginia students, but local school officials say they are faring better than the statewide data suggests.

NAEP released their “Nation’s Report Card” for the first time since 2019 Monday. The report tracks test scores for 4th and 8th graders from randomly selected individual schools in categories of reading and math on a 500-point scale.

In Tennessee, reading scores fell five points for 4th graders from 219 in 2019 to 214 now, while 8th graders also fell five points from 262 to 258.

In Virginia reading saw a far steeper decline. 4th graders fell ten points from 224 to 214, but 8th graders saw no significant change at 260 points.

All but Virginia’s 8th Grade reading levels were below the national averages for the respective grade levels.

In math, Tennessee 4th graders went down three points from 240 to 236, and 8th graders dropped eight points from 280 to 272.

Virginia’s math scores went down 11 points for 4th graders from 247 to 236, and 8th graders fell eight points from 287 to 279.

4th graders in both states were at the national average. 8th Graders in Tennessee were below average, but Virginia 8th graders were still above the average.

But locally, some school administrators said their districts are on a much better trajectory to overcome pandemic-incurred learning loss than this data suggests.

That’s because the Nation’s Report Card is not broken down to the district level. Local schools must rely on state testing scores to track their progress.

Wise County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Goforth said his district is scoring well above state averages on Virginia’s SOL tests.

“We all figured that there might be a little bit of a drop, but here in Wise County, we’re not really seeing that,” Goforth said.

As to why the district has not suffered from learning loss as severely as other districts in the state, Goforth said it is because of the district’s return to in-person learning in 2020.

Most schools locally came back in Fall 2020, earlier than others outside of the region.

“We’ve been focusing a lot on that social and emotional learning,” Goforth said. “Getting back to those connections that kids have to those teachers.”

Dr. Keith Perrigan, superintendent for Bristol, Virginia Public Schools, agreed. He said schools in Southwest Virginia did not fall behind as much because of the early return.

“Opening school as quickly as possible has been very beneficial,” Perrigan said. “We also saw a growth in our test scores in the second year coming out of the pandemic, but we still have a ways to go just like everybody else.”

Perrigan credited a six place jump in the state testing rankings from 2019 to this year to the early return to in-person.

In Johnson City Schools, the district saw a five percent increase in English-Language Arts passing rates from 2019 pre-pandemic to this year.

“We feel like with ELA when you look at that data, we are where we were pre-pandemic, out performing where we were pre-pandemic,” said Johnson City Superintendent Dr. Steve Barnett.

Johnson City is still behind on math, down 7 percent from a 60 percent passing rate in 2019.

Using TCAP data to analyze learning loss, Kingsport City Schools said they have made gains in several categories.

Kingsport saw gains in ELA and math for 4th and 8th graders from 2021 to 2022. 2022 TCAP scores exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 4th Grade ELA and 8th Grade math.

With these local districts feeling comfortable about learning loss recovery, the focus now turns to getting the students who are still behind back on track.

“Make sure every student has that opportunity to be on grade level or above grade level, and some of those students are approaching,” said Barnett.

Perrigan said it will be a critical task for schools over the next few years, especially for younger students.

“The longer they stay behind, the harder it’s going to be to catch them up, so that they are ready for college or community college or going into the workforce,” Perrigan said.

Among these districts, administrators said increasing tutoring hours, bringing on additional staff and creating strong summer school programs have been their best tools for fighting learning loss so far.