When schools shut down across the country in March, most of us expected our kids to be home for a few weeks. Then weeks stretched into months, and it became clear that the rest of the school year was shot. Even then, most of us did not expect to still not be back to normal with 2021 around the corner.
But here we are. And while the public health case for closing schools was real and remains so, we are only just beginning to gain insight into the true impact of school closures and extended virtual learning on student outcomes.
We’re not trying to be Debbie Downers around here—we know you come to The Kinda Guide to worry less, not more—but this is genuinely concerning, and we think it’s important that parents understand why.
The learning loss is real, and it’s bad. It’s a well-known fact that kids lose some ground in math and reading just over the course of a normal summer vacation. So it stands to reason that the slippage would be worse due to the coronavirus pandemic—and it is. In Dallas, for example, results from the district’s start-of-year Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments showed huge learning losses in math and reading. In 2019, 54 percent of Dallas fifth graders met grade-level expectations in math on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests. But based on these latest MAP assessments, only 24 percent of this year’s fifth graders are projected to meet that threshold. Reading scores slipped, too: This year’s incoming fifth graders were 21 percentage points behind their peers who started fifth grade last year.
It’s likely to be worse in math than in reading. Math scores tend to slip more than reading scores, perhaps because students are less likely to exercise these skills outside school. In Dallas, half of all students showed learning losses in math, while about a third did in reading.
The pandemic is exacerbating already existing opportunity gaps. Unfortunately, nothing about our education system is equitable, and the learning losses associated with COVID-19 are no different. In Dallas, for example, Black students’ projections for reaching the “meets grade level” threshold in math ranged from almost 8 percent to 18 percent depending on the grade, compared to a range of about 42 to 61 percent among white students. These gaps are likely to widen as the year goes on, because of huge disparities in access to in-person schooling. In Massachusetts, about two-thirds of Black and Latinx students attend school in districts that started the school year fully remote, compared to 70 percent of white students statewide who had access to at least some in-person school. Among students who are homeless, in foster care, English language learners, or have disabilities, as many as one in four have gone without education entirely since March. That's as many as three million total students.
This is concerning news, to say the least. So what, if anything, can grown-ups do at home to minimize learning loss?
You already know to read with your children at home, so keep doing that. If you’re running out of new reading material, the library is still a useful resource, even if you can’t browse in person. Many libraries are offering book pick-ups or even grab bags of books to borrow and return. Check out what your local branch is offering.
Don’t forget about math. We love Bedtime Math for simple and fun daily (or nightly, as it were) practice. For more intensive practice, Khan Academy is a great tool. Understood.org recommends these teacher-approved apps to support math skills at home, as well as reading, writing, and more. And if you feel like your child needs extra help, tutoring doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are eight places to look for free or low-cost tutoring, both in-person and online.
Finally, talk to your child’s teachers. Knowing how your kid is doing is a huge step toward keeping them on track. Don’t accept the weirdness of 2020 as an excuse for why your child might be falling behind. This school year isn’t going to be the same as others, but we can’t afford to write it off, either.
“Among students who are homeless, in foster care, English language learners, or have disabilities, as many as one in four have gone without education entirely since March.”
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