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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Shades of badness' in math, reading scores

The longer urban schools stayed closed the worse their fourth-graders are doing in math, concludes an analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress NAEP) data by The 74, writes Asher Lehrer-Small. Looking at districts, rather than states, showed the link.

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“The districts with more remote learning have larger test score losses,” said Emily Oster, a Brown University economics professor who also analyzed the results.

“It was very hard for the little kids to focus on Zoom,” said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Her research finds school closures led to "severe negative academic impacts, especially for younger students and those living in poverty."

“Schools stayed closed too long, especially in urban areas,” Lake said, noting that her judgment is much easier to make now with the benefit of hindsight as opposed to during the height of COVID when the science on infections and transmissibility was still coming into focus.
The variation in the NAEP results represents “shades of badness,” she said. “Some states are celebrating not being as bad as other states, but nobody has much to celebrate here.”

We need to admit that school closures were a mistake, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Yes, there are other factors explaining why students learned less, he writes, but this was the big one.

A 2022 paper published by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research concluded that the shift to remote or hybrid school during the pandemic “had profound consequences for student achievement.” . . . especially in high-poverty areas, students lost more ground the longer they were remote.
A 2022 Ohio State University study of declines in student achievement from March 2020 to spring 2021 came to a similar conclusion. Districts with fully remote instruction saw declines in test scores “up to three times greater than districts that had in-person instruction for the majority of the school year,” the researchers wrote. Once again, the declines were particularly stark for lower-achieving and minority students.

There's little evidence that keeping schools closed saved lives, writes Thompson. "Schools remained open in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy in late 2020 and early 2021," because policy makers relied on "reports that schoolchildren did not play a major role in community transmission." In addition, "evidence from Ireland, Singapore, Norway, Israel, South Korea, and North Carolina" showed that "young children were less likely than adults to get severely sick from COVID."

There's a media push to minimize the NAEP results. After all, writes David Wallace-Wells in the New York Times, what's a few points after a worldwide pandemic? He worries Democratic politicians will be blamed for extending school closures.

Jay Caspian Kang, writing in The New Yorker, also wants parents to calm down and lower their expectations. Parents' anxiety has been stoked by "the constant stream of stories about falling ACT and SAT scores, learning loss, and a generation of children who, absent some large-scale intervention, may fall well short of expectations." But, don't worry, because affluent, white students also did worse. And you wouldn't want Democrats might get the blame, would you?

The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board tells readers not to panic about test scores, Alexander Russo tweets. Only 17.3 percent of Chicago Public Schools' third-graders and 21.8 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded standards in English Language Arts; in math, 19.5 percent of third-graders and 15.3 percent of eighth-graders were at or above grade level. Are students likely to improve? Fifty-four percent of Black students and 44 percent of Hispanics were chronically absent. But, don't panic.

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