Students may be 6 months behind due to pandemic, TEA assessments show

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Assessments delivered through the Texas Education Agency show students may have experienced a nearly six-month learning loss directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and standard summer academic slide.

The TEA offered school districts optional end-of-year (EOY) assessments at the closure of the spring 2020 semester and beginning-of-year (BOY) assessments at the start of the fall 2020 semester. The TEA wanted to provide a tool schools administrators can reference to measure student progress and plan curriculums.

Researchers who studied the data found students experienced approximately 3.2 months of instructional loss at the onset of the pandemic due to in-person school closures and transition to remote learning, which then later compounded onto the standard 2.5 months of learning loss from the summer.

“The extended school closures and long-term remote instruction many students have experienced in the past nine months—in addition to the trauma of the pandemic itself, including the potential loss of financial resources and instability of food and housing—are likely to cause substantial academic impact,” the TEA writes. “The data reported here provide a unique opportunity to compare students’ understanding of the curriculum at two different timepoints during the pandemic with that of previous years.”

Using mostly the same grades, subjects and courses provide for STAAR testing, 63,255 electronic EOY tests and 648,609 BOY tests were administered. Average scores from the BOY tests were all lower than the 2019 STAAR scores, with “the most extreme drops coming from grades 4 and 8 mathematics, grades 5 and 8 science, Algebra I, and U.S. History.”

Due to low participation in the EOY assessments, the TEA cautioned against extrapolating those results to generalize statewide student performance.

Although the assessments were constructed with virtually the same blueprint as the STAAR tests, the TEA noted differences in the exam’s administration, including preparation, motivation and proctoring, which may limit results. However, the TEA said the results of these assessments may be useful tools in planning instructional adjustments for the future.

Students KXAN spoke to said the transition to remote learning has left them feeling behind in some core subjects. Math, in particular, has been difficult for siblings Haelee Hilton and Berkeley Firidifar.

“I still have a hard time remembering some things I learned from the third grade,” said Firidifar, now a fourth grader.

Her older sister agreed. “Algebra is the hardest. I’ve never been good at math and being remote is harder,” Hilton said.

Other challenges they face include technological breakdowns, self-organization and a lack of social bonding with their peers. These are daily struggles all kids are facing, they say.

“I’ve talked to my friends and they all feel the same way. We’re all behind. Remote is harder than it is in person,” Hilton said.

Leaders in the Leander Independent School District recognized these challenges students and teachers face in the transition to remote learning.

Jennifer Collins, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, said LISD students did not participate in the EOY or BOY assessments. However, she has recognized some academic loss throughout the course of the pandemic.

One of the big takeaways was recognizing that some skills and topics from the final three months of the spring semester had to be thrown out during the emergency transition to remote learning.

“We had to make choices about what we were going to teach students and what we had to let go,” Collins said. “We wouldn’t be surprised that students scored low in those areas because they weren’t even given a chance to learn those things.”

Collins said it didn’t necessarily make sense to move some final topics of the spring 2020 semester and replace them at the beginning of the fall 2020 semester. Instead, LISD school officials are strategically placing them in later units for which the material most closely relates.

For example, Collins said parts of fourth grade Texas History will not be taught in fifth grade, but rather in 7th grade, when the social studies class recycles the subject again.

“It’s all about looping the curriculum and providing those foundational skills where it makes the most sense for kids,” Collins said. “This is going to be something that impacts us for the future. That’s why we need to take those skills that our teachers know, with pre-assessing our kids and seeing what they know and understand, and seeing how we can support those foundational skills.”

The silver lining, Collins said, is that Texas is no further behind that the rest of the nation. She said it’s important for students, teachers, parents and administrators to remember that 2020 was different, so it must be treated as such.

“It’s just not a normal year which means it’s taking some additional brain power of everyone involved.”

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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