COVID pandemic, lockdowns set student learning back decades, new data shows

ByTim Johns KGO logo
Friday, September 2, 2022
COVID pandemic set student learning back decades, new data shows
The National Center for Education Statistics found that the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns set student learning back decades.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- New data shows two decades of learning improvements have been wiped away in the span of just two years.

It's often called "the nation's report card."

Twice a year, the National Center for Education Statistics releases data from an assessment given to nearly 15,000 kids.

RELATED: Bay Area school districts ready to tackle learning loss after year of online learning

It shows how American students are performing in key subject areas.

On Thursday, new numbers revealed that since the start of the pandemic, the country has received a failing grade.

"It's not uncommon to see them maybe two grades below level, which is tragic in and of itself, but we're seeing kids that are three and four grades below level," said Jim Wambach of the Children Rising.

From the start of 2020 through the winter of 2022, the COVID pandemic and ensuing lockdowns resulted in a learning loss that erased decades of progress.

VIDEO: Bay Area school district grapples with learning loss among students of color, low-income households

Reopening schools will be costly. Making up for student learning losses will be every more expensive. Studies are now telling us that if students lost one year of in-person instruction, it may take three to five years for them to catch up.

In the areas of math and reading, statistics show 9-year-old students being knocked to levels not seen since the 1990s.

The trend has caused alarm among both educators and parents.

"It was easy for the people who weren't with them each day to say, 'oh the kids they're doing fine, they're resilient, they'll get through this.' And we, the parents, who were at home were saying the kids are actually not alright," said parent Viviane Safrin.

While the learning losses were broad-based across nearly all groups, students of color were disproportionately impacted.

"I think part of that is because so many of our students of color in the state were already in schools that were under-resourced, under-invested in. And then you add a pandemic on top of that," said Dr. Christopher Nellum of The Education Trust-West.

VIDEO: Learning Loss: Solutions for students struggling with distance learning

Bay Area students have spent a year online distancing learning, which is taking some off track, but there are solutions for struggling students. We're spending a week talking to families, students and educators about the solutions to this problem.

Since returning to in-person learning, parents and teachers have been working overtime trying to catch their students up.

But many still say they worry about the long-term effects.

"These academic numbers, I feel, are actually just the tip of the iceberg. They're not even addressing the social and emotional losses that happened," Safrin said.

And unless more steps are taken to try and address the learning losses immediately, some fear they could haunt us for years to come.

"I fear we're going to see a cliff three, four, five years from now where we're going to have a much higher rate of dropouts in high school and middle school," said Safrin.

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