THE SCOPE OF LEARNING LOSS IN TEXAS
Although it can be difficult to measure learning loss, studies have found that students are struggling during the pandemic in several ways:
Early school disruptions led to loss of key knowledge
Once school was disrupted last year, students and their teachers had trouble maintaining the typical pace of learning. On average, U.S. students lost the equivalent of three months of learning in math and six weeks of learning in reading.
By the fall of 2020, many students had already lost key knowledge from the previous year. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) conducted optional assessments to kick off the school year, finding significant learning loss in three key areas:
- Only 29 percent of Texas third graders achieved “meets grade level” in reading, compared to 44 percent in 2019.
- Just 15 percent of Texas fourth graders achieved “meets grade level” in math, down from 46 percent in 2019.
- Only 12 percent of Texas fifth graders achieved “meets grade level” in science, compared to 48 percent in 2019.
Safety concerns have hampered early education
Meanwhile, many young Texans aren’t benefiting from early education during the pandemic. In the first half of the 2020-2021 school year:
- Pre-kindergarten enrollment in Texas public schools dropped 22 percent.
- The number of 3-year-olds in early education programs also fell 22 percent.
- Enrollment in kindergarten and fifth grade declined 6 percent.
In North Texas, some pre-K programs started the school year with nearly 40 percent fewer students compared to previous years. This trend is likely due to many parents’ health concerns, especially in low-income communities and communities of color, which have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Some students face additional challenges
Research shows that students of color and those in high-poverty communities are, on average, experiencing greater learning loss than their peers, further widening the opportunity gap in education.
There are several factors at play here, as Abigail Sharp, vice president of early childhood initiatives at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, explains:
“Students of color have been affected disproportionately by learning loss as they are more likely to live in internet desserts, as well as have parents and caregivers who needed to continue to work during the pandemic as essential workers,” she said.
When schools closed to in-person instruction last spring, students who didn’t have access to a stable internet connection or the proper devices for virtual learning lost weeks, if not months, of instruction prior to the end of the school year. Many school districts in North Texas struggled to equip students with the things necessary to engage in learning, such as laptops and hot spots—but by then, thousands of children had experienced significant learning loss.
Meanwhile, remote learning often requires heavy involvement from parents and caretakers. That level of support was not available for all families due to a variety of factors that include language barriers, work demands, technology literacy skills and more.