AUSTIN (KXAN) — When schools had to shut down and shift to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, about one in 10 students in Texas didn’t complete assignments or didn’t respond to their teacher’s outreach efforts, according to the Texas Education Agency.
The TEA’s new report found that 88.72% of students were fully engaged during the pandemic. About 11% were considered to have lost engagement partially or fully.
Among those whose engagement or contact was lost, low-income, Black and Hispanic students were more affected, compared to white and Asian students.
Engagement vs. actual learning
“It was definitely really weird. It was definitely hard to adjust to,” said 11-year-old Bella Saenz about having to learning from home.
She said her class met on Zoom on Monday, and once the students received their assignment for the week, they were on their own. Bella’s teacher was available to meet on Zoom throughout the week if she had any questions.
“I like to like, interact and do projects. So when I was doing online learning, it was hard. I miss my friends,” said Bella.
“I think the hardest part was really teaching them to be responsible because I had to continue my job,” Bella’s mom Jennifer Saenz told KXAN.
Saenz is Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives and Continuous Improvement at education nonprofit E3 Alliance.
She said leading virtual learning for Bella and her older brother was no walk in the park. She also questioned how much students were really learning even when they were considered “fully engaged” by the TEA.
“Teachers were giving students something to get them through. So what I experienced is my kids were getting a lot of worksheets, and a lot of those worksheets were on things that they had done in previous school years,” Jennifer explained. “My 15-year-old was completely disengaged. I mean, it was, did not feel like the work that he was getting was challenging.”
Engagement rate for different grade levels
The engagements rates differed based on grades as well. According to the TEA, pre-kindergarten students had the highest rate of no or lost engagement.
“Children who enter kindergarten behind, unfortunately research shows, have a tendency to stay behind,” said Kim Fischer, national spokesperson for Waterford.org. “80 to 90% of children who start behind will stay behind.”
Waterford.org has a program that gives parents tools they can use to teach their children at home to combat learning loss.
Fischer said the organization has about 2,500 Texas families in the summer program.
While it’s too late to sign up for the summer program specifically, Fischer told KXAN, “If you have time, and the ability to read to your children, read to your children.”
Impacts of learning loss
E3 Alliance told KXAN we won’t immediately know the long-term effects of last semester’s learning loss.
“I think we’re all waiting with bated breath to see what’s going to happen over the next couple months,” said Caitlin Hamrock, Director of Research.
But with virtual learning still being an option for fall, parents like Jennifer Saenz hope for improvement.
“I think my biggest concern is the level of professional development and resources and training. Are we providing our teachers so that they really walk into to the fall semester of feeling confident,” Saenz said.
Local schools officials had previously discussed challenges associated with reaching students during the pandemic.
The Austin Independent School District told KXAN Wednesday they were able to deliver Chromebooks to 85% of the students who requested the devices.
AISD said in an email:
The “COVID slide” is of concern to everyone in the field of education given the wide array of variables at play with educating students during this time. The Department of Academics is designing resources for teachers to use this fall that will help them to prioritize critical learning opportunities and have access to resources to instruct students who may enter the 2020-21 school year with some gaps in learning.