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School closings due to pandemic delay minority and poor children in math and reading


A disproportionate number of low-income and minority students did not come to their schools for their assessments this fall, complicating efforts to measure the effects of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable students.

By Erin Einhorn - NBC News

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of most schools in the United States in the spring, students were immersed in new and unfamiliar ways of learning. 

Special education students and children learning English lost the support their schools struggled to provide online. 

Many students did not have access to computers or the internet and were completely isolated from their teachers.

The impact of these measures on student learning will not be known for months or years, but new reports from national organizations that evaluate standardized tests have begun to provide early insight into the impacts.

The most recent is a report by NWE, a nonprofit company that manages standardized controls in the United States, which analyzed the results of tests that nearly 4.4 million American students in grades three through eight were subjected to. Fall and that revealed that most fell short in math, averaging 5 to 10 percentage points behind students who took the same test last year.

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While most students performed better than expected in reading, with scores similar to previous years, this was not the case for black and Hispanic students and those who attend schools in the poorest districts.

Those groups performed worse than in previous tests, suggesting that the pandemic has exacerbated the educational disparities of minority schoolchildren and children living below the poverty line, possibly placing them even further behind students than they were already lagging behind their richer, white peers.

"It's a cause for concern and it's a reason to really focus our attention on helping kids catch up," said Megan Kuhfeld, NWEA's lead scientific investigator and lead author of the study.

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Kuhfeld and his colleagues analyzed scores on the NWEA MAP Growth tests, which schools take several times a year and which assess student progress in math and reading. 

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Those assessments found that pandemic-related school closings could hamper progress for the most vulnerable children unless their parents and teachers act quickly to help them catch up.

"They could get farther and farther behind if they have gaps in their learning," Kuhfeld said, noting that, for example, it's difficult to learn to multiply fractions if you don't know how to add and subtract. 

But more concerning than the findings themselves is the fact that they offer a skewed picture of the big picture. 

The study was limited by the fact that a large number of students (1 in 4) did not take the MAP test for the fall of this year.

Students may not have been tested because they were unable to go online on test day.

They may have been absent from school due to illness or quarantine.

They may attend schools that chose not to take any tests this year, given the many new challenges facing schools due to the pandemic.

Or students not listed in the NWEA data may not be in school.

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Many districts across the country have experienced significant enrollment drops this fall, and one study estimates that 3 million of the nation's most vulnerable children (those who are homeless, in foster care, have disabilities, or are learning English) could be removed from school.

That means that while the NWEA researchers ran into good results - students' scores in both reading and math were higher than NWEA had predicted in a previous report - it's hard to know how significant they are. 

Students may be learning remotely better than feared, or parents may have been able to supplement their learning with additional lessons, Kuhfeld said.

But another important factor is the students who did not take the test, and who would have been more likely to obtain lower scores.

"The students we care most about are probably the missing ones," Kuhfeld said.

NWEA's findings echo the results of another national testing organization, Renaissance Learning, Inc., which reviewed the results of more than 3 million American students in grades one through eight in another widely used school assessment called Star. and found that reading and math scores decreased significantly compared to a normal year.

Renaissance, which also saw a drop in the number of students taking its assessments this fall, similarly found that black, Hispanic, and Native American children, as well as rural students and those who attend schools in high-poverty populations lost. more ground than those students who enjoy more advantages.

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For many parents and teachers, this year's grades show another reality.

"It made me feel like I was failing as a parent," said Angelica Gonzalez, a Seattle mother of three whose second daughter, Lolly, a third grader who had always excelled in school until her classes went virtual last spring.

Lolly, who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), found sitting in front of a computer screen to attend classes so stressful, she cried daily, according to her mother. 

González eventually gave Lolly permission to skip those remote classes, opting to teach her daughter herself.

That was the best decision I could make for her daughter's mental health, González noted, but when the girl returned to school this fall, Lolly's MAP scores showed her reading progress had dropped to where they were at. I started second grade last year.

In math, it was slightly below the national average and hadn't budged since last winter. 

González is concerned about the long-term consequences of leaving non-face-to-face classes aside, especially since the Catholic school that Lolly attends with a scholarship recently announced that due to the spike in COVID-19 infections it would end the option of face-to-face classes.

Lolly was able to better focus on her online classes in a classroom with school staff but is now back home and is struggling with remote learning again like she did in the spring, González explained.

“I know kids can catch up, but it will take tutoring, resources and money, and we are not even doing it for those who are struggling right now,” he added.

She herself had suffered from school problems in her childhood and was bouncing from school to school.

Eventually she was able to finish high school despite becoming a teenage mother and went to college.

She was able to graduate from law school and works as a paralegal until she graduates as a lawyer. 

But gaps in her education have haunted her, she lamented.

"Even to this day, things are much more difficult because I did not have that base," said González.

She recalled that the teachers treated her differently because she was behind her grade level and she is concerned that the same could happen to Lolly.

Teacher Kevin Culley has similar concerns for his students at Joseph J. Rhoads Elementary School in Dallas, Texas.

He expected to see some lower scores than usual when his third grade math students took the MAP assessment this year, but he did not expect to see many of them falling behind their grade.

"Those scores were a bit scary," he lamented.

In an attempt to stimulate students, he has revamped his lessons to include competitive math games and dynamics that teach third grade concepts, along with a second grade review, both for his students in the classroom and for those who watch him in. a live broadcast from their homes.

But he worries about what could happen to his students if they don't catch up before taking the Texas state STAAR test in the spring. 

The test can affect whether underperforming students advance to the next grade, and the scores are used to evaluate teachers and elementary schools.

"Testing is something that's hanging over their heads, and I'm really concerned about how this will affect their confidence," Culley said.

"Once a child's trust has been broken, it is difficult to get him to move on," he concluded.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2020-12-02

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