Under the best circumstances, the Landmark and the rest of the newspapers in the Growing Community Media group have never strongly advocated looking at annual state-mandated standardized assessments as the best way to determine the success of schools, teachers, students or a school system as a whole.

In Illinois the perpetual rejiggering of the standardized tests effectively makes comparables across years impossible. There is most certainly racial bias/insensitivity built into the tests. And we don’t put credence in the argument, “It’s a snapshot of a moment worth capturing.” Heaven knows the moment captured in the COVID-induced remote learning environment of last spring is going to be aberration piled on aberration.

However, this is not to say the tests don’t serve a useful purpose and can serve as one of many tools public school administrators and parents have to judge how children are being served and how education is being delivered.

There are some long-term trends that remain a concern, such as the low achievement, regardless of how assessments have evolved through the years, in Lyons-Brookfield School District 103. To have no students at Lincoln School in Brookfield exceeding state standards in English and math is as alarming as knowing that just 11 percent of those students met state standards in English and just 6 percent met them in math.

It’s not an anomaly. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, the number of students meeting state standards in either subject was nothing to write home about. In English the figure was 20 percent. In math, it was 16.

But clearly the lack of in-classroom learning during the 2020-21 school year (the kids in District 103 didn’t make it back into classrooms until the spring) had a major impact. That children would be welcomed back into classrooms this year was welcome news this summer, and all of us need to do our part to make sure it stays that way.

As we reported today, the number of new cases of COVID-19 is back on the rise – not as high as the fall of 2020 due to vaccines available now to all school-age children, but still worth keeping an eye on.

While there appears to be little stomach for another classroom shutdown, some school administrators are getting skittish. Over the weekend, for example, administrators at Oak Park and River Forest High School unexpectedly announced they were suspending all extracurricular activities due to a spike in new cases.

That decision resulted in howls of protest from the community and was quickly walked back two days later. But don’t simply assume we’re out of the COVID woods yet. Getting vaccinated and boosted, keeping students and staff masked in classroom settings and maintaining vigilance can help prevent spread of COVID-19 and prevent reverting to shutdowns that absolutely no one wants to experience again.

Keeping our public schools in regular operation and following their COVID-mitigation efforts should be a priority if we want to avoid the kind of learning losses that 2020 test scores pretty clearly indicated were a reality.