As we begin another school year, our educators recognize that we have a number of challenges when students return to in-person school. My focus in this post is on some of the mental health needs of students. I believe there will be an outpouring of mental health issues that our schools will be working through with a significant number of students at all ages.
However, we also have some significant issues in learning loss and student achievement this past year that has left many students behind in their academic status. The Hechinger Report has published an article by Jill Barshay on research that has documented some of the issues, particularly in math scores that will need to be addressed by our schools, our students and their parents. Here are some excerpts from this article:
Three new reports on student achievement during the pandemic all point to larger declines in math than in reading and widening gaps between the haves and have-nots. But describing exactly how students are doing academically is proving to be a challenge when school closures and pandemic experiences varied so wildly from state to state and family to family.
The data we currently have omits vast numbers of low-income children, who have been the hardest hit by the disruption. That’s because low-income students were less likely to attend in-person school, where diagnostic assessments were given, or take an online assessment at home. None of the currently available data is nationally representative. There’s also no information on the achievement of high school students, who are at risk of dropping out of the education system. Still, as imperfect as the figures are, they paint a dismal picture.
In a July 27 report, consulting firm McKinsey & Company calculated that 800,000 elementary school children were five months behind in math and four months behind in reading, on average, compared to similar students before the pandemic. Those learning loss estimates are based on how students performed on i-Ready assessments administered in school in spring 2021. (The test, produced by Curriculum Associates, is one of many diagnostic tests used at schools to track student progress and identify children who need extra help.) Roughly speaking, that’s the equivalent of half a school year. The McKinsey report predicted that this generation of less-educated students could potentially reduce the size of the U.S. economy by $128 billion to $188 billion a year as they enter the workforce “unless steps are taken to address unfinished learning.”
The following day, July 28, the nonprofit test maker NWEA issued a more detailed report, which not only confirmed that students, on average, learned a lot less than usual during the pandemic, especially in math, but also documented how low-income, Black and Latinx students were falling further behind academically.
The article continues with more details of the current research. It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on academic progress of our students in elementary, middle school and high school. Not only are schools dealing with all the issues surrounding the new rise in COVID-19 due to the Delta variant but there will also be a need to strategize as to how we might help students catch up on the academic progress that has been lost. We as educators will have to work on some recovery of knowledge that they must gain before moving forward.
It is my hope that schools will be able to make that progress without further attendance issues due to this resurgence of COVID-19. Also, teachers and schools will have to assess where their students are before launching into the next academic growth steps. That strategic and compassionate approach will hopefully alleviate the deficits that have been created by the consequences of the loss of learning that have occurred over the last 18 months of schools being virtual. It is important that we recognize what we need to do so our students can realize their full potential as we enter this significant transitional school year.