Students falling behind in math during pandemic, study finds

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Students work on virtual lessons in a learning pod created in a South Austin home. (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)

INDIANAPOLIS —A new study found many low-income and minority students were absent from fall school assessments. 

Researchers with NWEA analyzed data from nearly 4.4 million U.S. students, including 223,000 Hoosiers, in grades 3-8. The company, which administers standardized “MAP” testing, said the missing data complicates efforts to measure the pandemic’s impacts on students.

“The number of students taking the test this year is substantially lower than what we’ve seen in the past,” said Associate Professor of Sociology Indiana University, Jessica Calarco.

Calarco said the students likely missing from the data are students that come from disproportionately disadvantaged backgrounds – like students from low-income families and students of color.

“Many students in rural areas in Indiana don’t have access to the kinds of high-speed internet that they need to get connected,” said Calarco.

Calarco said missing data could lead to a false sense of hope regarding the impact the pandemic has had on children.

Overall, NWEA’s fall assessments indicate elementary and middle school students are behind in math. Meanwhile in reading, most students are progressing at a normal pace.

“What we’re finding here locally is, that may be a little more optimistic,” said James Dolan of Tutor Doctor Indy. “We actually saw an increase in families contacting us for English needs.”

Tutor Doctor Indy provides in-person and virtual tutoring to more than 100 struggling students across Central Indiana. Dolan said the increased inquiries could be because English and reading deficiencies are easier to detect.

“With math, fewer of our parents, myself included, are fully equipped to teach somebody,” said Dolan.

“If parents aren’t confident in their own math skills or if they have other demands on their time – it’s going to be so much harder for kids to get the hands-on support that they need to be successful in online learning right now,” said Calarco.

Dolan said the long-lasting impacts of the pandemic on student’s virtual learning has yet to been seen in full effect.

“We need to continue to have these standardized tests and assessments so we can track progress and intervene where we need to,” said Dolan. 

Meanwhile, Calarco said local school districts need more federal assistance to better help struggling students in the future.

“We know that there aren’t enough computers and laptops and access to high speed internet for the students who need them and so I think there’s a tremendous need for extra resources,” said Calarco.

Calarco said it was estimated that schools needed $254 billion to reopen safely with the staff and supplies needed to withstand virtual learning. However, only $13 billion was awarded through CARES Act funding.

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