Report: Steeper COVID slide expected in math than reading

Dive Brief:

  • Learning gains during the 2019-20 school year are expected to be significantly lower than typical years due to the “COVID slide,” according to a report from NWEA published in Sage Journals.
  • The research predicts learning gains in reading to be 63% to 68% of what they normally are on average, but math is expected to be much lower at only 37% to 50% of the average normal school year gains.
  • These numbers assume a 50% absenteeism rate during school closures compared to normal circumstances.

Dive Insight:

Research shows virtual instruction was hit-or-miss in the spring. Though 83% of parents in a Gallup poll reported their children were involved in distance learning, some teachers had no contact with a significant number of students. A survey conducted by Education Week the first week of April found only 39% of teachers interacted with students at least once a day, and most communication was done via email.

Even when teachers made themselves available online, almost 50% of low-income families and 42% of families of color lacked devices at home needed for distance learning. High-poverty schools were less likely to expect online learning to be offered to all students and also reported a higher percentage of students who were completely absent compared to low-poverty schools.

Mass tutoring initiatives are one way to fend off learning loss caused by the “COVID slide.” Proposals making their way through Congress would expand AmeriCorps’ ability to connect students with tutors, while also providing jobs for recent college graduates in a tough employment market.

In some cases, charities are helping. For example, former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife are helping to fund tutoring for students through their foundation by paying 600 college students to tutor struggling elementary students.

High-poverty schools can use some of their Title I funds for individual education supports, including tutoring. Though this figure could be as high as $425 million if all states participated, $630 million on private commercial tutoring services.

One-on-one or small group tutoring has been shown to make a positive impact on preventing learning loss, but that model also has the highest price tag. Meanwhile, the students in most need of this intervention are the least likely to have access to physical space, the moral support or the technology and funds needed. An estimated 16.9 million students, or 8.4 million households, lack home internet access, and 3.6 million households don’t have a computer.

In the end, it’s going to take time to recover from the COVID slide, according to Claudio Estrada, principal of PUC Community Charter Middle School in Lakeview Terrace, California, and Mariana Aguilar, who leads the research team at ed tech company GoGuardian. Depending on the grade level, students may only make 70% of the progress they typically make in a school year. Adjustments need to be made, but standards will still need to be met because knowledge builds upon itself.

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