ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia students showed small improvements on state standardized tests in the 2022-2023 school year, but achievement remains below pre-pandemic levels, and slow progress suggests a full recovery could be years off.

The Georgia Department of Education released the annual Milestones test results Friday. Students in grades 3 through 8 as well as high schoolers take tests in math and English language arts, while a few grades take science and social studies tests. Federal law requires most of the tests.

Officials in the state Department of Education focused on the positive, saying more grade levels showed achievement increases than decreases.

“We definitely do see trends of holding steady or improving in ELA and math, especially at the elementary and middle school levels,“ Allison Timberlake, deputy state superintendent for assessment and accountability, told reporters Thursday in a briefing.

Proficiency levels — the share of students meeting expectations for what they should know — averaged above 43% in English language arts and math in 2019, the last year before the pandemic. In 2023, they averaged around 39%, up about a percentage point on average from 2022.

The results show learning disruptions around COVID-19 have proved long-lasting, even though the vast majority of Georgia school districts offered in-person classes for all but about two months in the spring of 2020.

Of the 21 tests given across all grades and subjects, only seventh grade students in English language arts and eighth grade students in math scored at or above the same proficiency level as in 2019.

Achievement levels on four required high school tests in American literature and composition, algebra, biology and U.S. history generally declined, as did achievement levels for eighth grade students in science and social studies.

State officials said they are hiring 100 teachers to provide online tutoring to high school students, and also partnering with the AmeriCorps federal service program to provide math and reading tutoring to 5,000 students. Georgia is also expanding its offerings of formative assessments to help schools evaluate student achievement before the state tests. But many key decisions, including how to spend billions in federal pandemic aid, have largely been left to Georgia`s 180 school districts and independent charter schools.

Officials in the state Department of Education have downplayed the importance of standardized testing under Republican state Superintendent Richard Woods. The high school tests had counted for 20% of a student`s grade in the course through 2023, but will only count for 10% of the grade going forward under a proposal pushed by Woods.

The test results will be used to assign A-to-F letter grades to schools and districts for the first time since 2019. The grading system was interrupted for multiple years. In 2020, there was no testing. In 2021, the shares of students taking the tests varied widely from school to school, making it generally invalid to compare 2021 and 2022 results at the school or district level, officials said.