Test scores show Catholic schools largely escaped COVID-induced ‘learning loss’

Young St. Raphael School students seen in an Aug. 20 Facebook post during the first week of school. (Courtesy photo) (Photos by Francisco Valdez, Archdiocese of San Francisco)
Young St. Raphael School students seen in an Aug. 20 Facebook post during the first week of school. (Courtesy photo)

Christina Gray

The Archdiocese of San Francisco’s herculean efforts to bring children back for in-person classroom learning during the past school year paid off, based on new scholastic test results.

“Catholic elementary schools did not show a learning loss when comparing this year’s scores to previous years,” said archdiocesan Catholic Schools Superintendent Pamela Lyons, crediting the quick return to in-person instruction in the 2021-21 school year. “Our students had about four months of distance learning as opposed to public school counterparts who had up to nine months of distance learning.”

Lyons shared a 2021 report by Scholastic Testing Services, the company that administers the standardized High School Placement Test (HSPT) taken by elementary school students who wish to enter Catholic high schools. The report showed an overall performance drop nationwide in 2020-21, the largest decline in the last five years.

In the Archdiocese of San Francisco, however, the story was a bit different. Almost all Catholic elementary schools here resumed in-person learning last fall with social distancing and staggered scheduling – months earlier than local public schools.

Of the 657 local test-takers from both Catholic and public schools analyzed by STS, the Catholic school students performed better.

Nearly 60 administrators of Catholic K-12 schools in the Archdiocese of San Francisco gathered Aug. 10 for a day of preparation and prayer before the start of the 2021/22 academic school year. Most students in local Catholic schools returned to the classroom in August for the 2021-22 school year, with schools bound to follow strict protocols imposed by the counties and by the archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools.

Lyons’ presentation to school administrators acknowledged their possible “trepidation” at the prospect of a second year with COVID-19.

“We kind of thought when we came back this year, it would be, if not completely back to normal, at least close to it,” she said.

After what had been a steady decline in positive cases of COVID-19 in January 2021 following introduction of the vaccine, the Delta variant, a virulent mutation of the original virus reversed that trend, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By late July, just before students were scheduled to return to school, the case rate of the highly transmissible variant matched that of pre-vaccine days, the CDC said.

Lyons’ presentation outlined COVID-19 school protocols on masks, vaccines, visitors, travel and events, and will be updated regularly as they change.

K-12 students must mask indoors in San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties; masks are optional outdoors for all in K-12 school settings except in Marin County where they are required both indoors and out. Adults in the same settings are required to mask when sharing these spaces with students.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is following the state mandate that all teachers and staff must either show proof of vaccination or be tested every week, she said.

Lyons emphasized that her presentation to educators was intended to prepare schools with clear working guidelines, but not to get stuck there.

We have to remember that as Catholic schools, Christ always has to come first … We can’t lose that through everything else.

Pamela Lyons

“We have to remember that as Catholic schools, Christ always has to come first”, she said. “We can’t lose that through everything else.”

Father Patrick Summerhays, vicar for administration and moderator of the curia, celebrated the annual Mass for school educators which followed the presentation. Father Stephen H. Howell, vicar general, concelebrated.

“As we begin another school year, may we find Christ in each moment in each day even in the many challenges that we do face,” said Father Summerhays in his closing blessing. “May we also exude that cheerful disposition, that joy that Christ places in each one of the hearts of his true disciples.”