If you’re one of the many parents who had to try and keep track of links, passwords, headphones, and chargers in those early days of online learning, you could probably tell the experiment wasn’t going to go well. If you watch your kids during Zoom meetings, it didn’t take a master’s degree in education to understand that they just weren’t learning as much as they were in-person at school.
Now the results – in terms of the children’s academic performance – are coming in, and the news is not good.
Nationwide, test scores in math and reading fell significantly from 2020 to 2022. Children who received less personal schooling performed lower, as did black children and children who underperformed to begin with.
Here’s what parents should know about the drop — and how to help their kids catch up.
How much ground has been lost during the pandemic?
This year, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the Nation’s Report Card, conducted its long-term trend assessment of 7,400 9-year-olds in 410 schools. The results show an average drop of 5 points in reading and 7 points in math since 2020, the last time the test was administered.
This is the largest drop in reading scores on the NAEP since 1990, and the first time math scores have fallen since the test was first administered in 1973.
The dip became progressively steeper as the student cut lower. In reading, students who placed in the top 10% of test takers dropped an average of 2 points, while children whose scores placed them in the bottom 10% saw an average drop of 10 points. Similarly, in math, children in the top 10% saw their score drop by an average of 3 points, while the bottom 10% lost an average of 12 points.
Not surprisingly, students with higher scores reported greater access to online learning resources, such as laptops and high-speed internet, and greater confidence in their ability to learn remotely.
Broken down by race and ethnicity, black, white, and Hispanic students all saw a 6-point drop in reading scores. But in math, black students’ scores fell by an average of 13 points, compared to 5 points for white students and 8 points for Hispanic students.
Test scores from individual states tell a similar story, with a significant drop in the number of students meeting academic benchmarks.
In an analysis of third- through eighth-grade test scores from 11 states, economist and best-selling author Emily Oster and her co-authors found an average decline in math test pass rates of 12.8 percentage points and an average decline of 12.8 percentage points 6.8 Percentage points for English language art.
Recently released data from Oregon shows that 43.6% of students passed ELA exams and 30.4% in math this year, compared to pass rates of 53.4% and 39.4%, respectively, in 2019.
It is important to note that the dates vary quite a bit between states.
What factors contributed to the decline in test scores?
The data confirms what most parents suspected: face-to-face classes are more effective for children than distance learning.
Oster and her co-authors found that the less face-to-face learning students had, the worse their test scores got.
“These learning losses did indeed occur, and they were greater in areas where the school was remote,” Oster told HuffPost. “When parents are unsure of the value of classroom education for their children, it clearly demonstrates its value.”
When comparing how many students passed these tests in small geographic areas, they found that districts with full distance training lost an additional 13 points in their math test pass rate compared to districts with classroom training. In reading, there was an additional drop of 8 points in pass rates.
These results, according to Oster, “underscore the tremendous value of face-to-face interaction in schools.”
They “can also illustrate the importance of focus and of teachers and schools as places of safety and security,” she said. “It’s hard to tell how much of the problem with distance learning was just that it was kids not there or unable to be fully present.”
With students now back in their school buildings, there are already hopeful signs of reversing that loss. Test results aren’t back to where they were in 2019, but they’re rising.
“Between the end of 2021 and the end of 2022 – depending on the data set – we caught up on about a third to two-thirds of the test result losses,” said Oster.
“This is good news in terms of recovery,” she added. “It suggests there’s still a long way to go.”
What do we do now?
Shael Polakow-Suransky was New York City School Chancellor before becoming President of Bank Street College of Education in 2014.
Speaking of the drop in test scores in the pandemic, he said, “If every institution in our society has been damaged by the pandemic, we shouldn’t be surprised and panic too much.”
“The things we need to do are clear,” he said. “We need to reconnect children and families with schools.”
Some schools set up tutoring programs with government grants to help kids catch up, and these could be effective, Polakow-Suransky believes. But “there is no substitute for classes going well.”
“If schools are set up in a way that children enjoy being there and are involved, they will learn [and to] catch up,” he said.
A parent might reasonably assume that a child who is struggling with reading and arithmetic should spend more time reading and arithmetic rather than talking about their feelings or playing games with their peers.
But learning doesn’t work like a medicine where you can just increase the dose. The right conditions must be carefully cultivated by an experienced teacher.
It was these interpersonal interactions with adults and peers — what we all now know as “social-emotional learning” — that children lacked when school went online, and it is these relationships that can now lay the foundation for their academic growth.
If we focus on how far behind children are or what they can’t do, we risk losing perspective, Polakow-Suransky said.
Learning loss is not the whole story of the pandemic. Polakow-Suransky suggests that we also ask, “What have you learned in that time that you may not have?” [otherwise]and what strengths do they bring to the table?”
In order to be successful at school, students must “live in a trusting environment, be interested in what is happening at school, [and] The work has to be both rigorous and challenging, and also very rewarding,” he said.
If your child is struggling at school in the wake of the pandemic, remember they are not alone – as the data shows, many other children are in the same boat. Outside of school, look for interesting and engaging skill-building activities such as B. reading books that the children choose themselves, or doing math while shopping or cooking. Emphasize what your child is good at, and also encourage them to practice areas where they are weak.
It’s always worth checking in with your child’s teacher if you have any concerns or are considering hiring a tutor. Building a strong, collaborative relationship with their teacher will ultimately help your child learn.
“You have to feel like the people there really know you and care about you and listen to you,” Polakow-Suransky said. “There are no shortcuts.”