Will Covid-19 end The Achievement Plateau?
Probably, but not in the right direction.
Extensive remote learning and social isolation will create an “achievement valley” for poorer students of color.
NWEA, the not-for-profit organization best known for selling its growth assessment, MAP, to schools all around the world, released a study examining learning loss from the pandemic.
EdSurge, the tech-focused news site I once emailed about their informative-yet-much-too-long email newsletters, wrote about it with the headline, “Thanks to Teachers, Learning Loss This Year Was Not As Bad As Projected.” (They did credit parents, too, but much too far down in the article.)
As the headline might suggest, we might interpret the study as good news — it wasn’t as bad as we thought! It found, for example, that while students grew less in math than in reading since the start of the pandemic, overall they still made growth. Great news, right?
Nope. First, growth was disproportionately lower among black and hispanic students. From the study: …there was initial evidence of small declines in reading for some groups of students. Those declines were concentrated disproportionately among Hispanic² and Black students in the upper elementary grades.
Second, NWEA is telling us their sample is missing a lot of students — guess which ones — and can’t really be used to draw sweeping conclusions. Again, from the study: …considerable caution is warranted when interpreting fall 2020 assessment results. Students tested in fall 2020 had higher average baseline achievement and were demographically different (e.g., racially less diverse and attend higher socioeconomic schools) from students who were not tested. In other words, a lot of poorer students of color didn’t even take MAP in the fall.
That mirrors what I’m seeing as a principal: our enrollment is the lowest it’s been in at least 10 years, and we have a 12% increase in chronically truant students — those missing a lot of school. For context, 83% of the students at my school identify as black or hispanic and 76% receive TANF, SNAP, or Medicaid benefits.
When students are under-enrolled and missing school, it means they’re missing the friendships they’d normally make in schools. I spend most Friday afternoons doing home visits for students with chronic absenteeism, and my knocks go unanswered more often than not. Our virtual community circles are powerful, and they can only do so much to build connections.
Learning loss aside, I’m also concerned about other consequences of this crisis in education: how many students will leave public schools altogether, and how will that affect districts already in dire financial straits?
How many teachers will leave when they realize the stress added through their commutes and classroom management just isn’t worth it anymore? (Climate incidents at our school have dropped well over 90% YOY, something I’ll address in a separate newsletter.)
The crisis has a few silver linings: we’ve increased our fluency with technology, adopted a 1:1 Chromebook policy, learned that we can build some sense of community through Zoom and Google Meet, had more time to develop staff, and engaged parents more directly in their children’s learning.
And those are overshadowed by the academic havoc this pandemic has wreaked on the most vulnerable students. Couple that with that with the economic pressures on poorer families, the disproportionate death toll and trauma faced by families of color, the fact that we missed an opportunity to renovate our deteriorating school buildings while they were vacant, and that there’s no imminent relief (getting back into buildings) this year, and “academic havoc” is an understatement.
Covid-19 has put The Matthew Effect on full display — I’ve only scratched the surface in this letter — and there’s a lot more work ahead to get us out of this valley and, sadly, back to the plateau.