For schoolchildren struggling to read, COVID-19 has been a wrecking ball

Boston Globe


The results were not pretty: By the start of first grade, the model projected the average student would be 31 percent behind where they would typically be in reading. That average from the study masked wide individual variation, however, with children whose parents consistently read to them losing far less. Other early projections were similarly dire: NWEA, a nonprofit research group, predicted in April 2020 that third- through eighth-grade students would start the fall term having lost as much as a third of expected progress from the previous year in reading. But in a widely publicized follow-up paper released in November, the organization reported that students actually held steady in reading, and experienced only moderate setbacks in math.

The stunning caveat: one in four students were simply missing from the fall 2020 testing, and those were precisely the students most likely to have suffered from the shift to remote learning — children with disabilities, low-income students, and Black and Latino children attending the most racially segregated schools.

These results match the expectations of Susanna Loeb, the director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, which conducts research and advocacy in support of urban public schools. She says students whose parents had the resources to invest in tutors or set up pods would be unlikely to suffer. “We don’t worry that all students lost,” she says. “We worry that some students lost a lot more than others did.” In other words, COVID’s most enduring educational legacy will likely be worsening inequality — of opportunity and outcome — in a country already skewed toward the haves.


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