Academic Crisis: The Devastating Impact School Closures Had on Student Performance

It could be a long time before society fully realizes the long-term impact of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns on education, but educators are already witnessing its effects.

In a viral TikTok video, Marquis Bryant, a seventh-grade teacher from Atlanta, Georgia, said he didn’t understand why more people aren’t talking about how far behind students have fallen.

“We all know that the world is behind, like you know, globally, like because of the pandemic and stuff,” Bryant said, “but I don’t know why they’re not stressing to ya’ll how bad it is. I teach seventh grade — they are still performing on a fourth-grade level.”

The federal government – whose Centers for Disease Control so adamantly recommended the lockdowns – is also observing this damage.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education, there has been a decline in average mathematics test scores for 13-year-olds. This decline occurred between the 2019-20 school year and the 2022-23 school year. Specifically, there was a 4-point decrease in reading scores and a 9-point decrease in mathematics scores., 

In another concerning statistic, only 47% of fourth-graders in 2022 had teachers who said they were confident in their ability to address pandemic-related learning gaps.

Bryant said he didn’t understand why more people aren’t talking about this phenomenon concerning academic performance as a result of the pandemic.

Catching Up

According to The Education Recovery Scorecard, a research collaboration between Stanford and Harvard universities, school closures have had significant academic consequences.

Test score declines were similar among all students, regardless of income, race, or ethnicity.

The researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis that involved reviewing data from 8,000 communities in 40 states and Washington, D.C. This data encompassed various factors, such as 2022 NAEP scores and Spring 2022 assessments, COVID death rates, voting rates, trust in government, patterns of social activity, and survey data from Facebook/Meta. The research also delved into family activities and mental health during the pandemic.

“Children have resumed learning, but largely at the same pace as before the pandemic,” said Thomas Kane, a faculty director with the research initiative. “There’s no hurrying up teaching fractions or the Pythagorean theorem.”

That means students won’t be able to make up for their learning gaps within the existing school schedules.

“Any district that lost more than a year of learning should be required to revisit their recovery plans and add instructional time — summer school, extended school year, tutoring, etc. — so that students are made whole,” Kane said.

“We must create learning opportunities for students outside of the normal school calendar by adding academic content to summer camps and after-school programs and adding an optional 13th year of schooling.”

Teachers Frustrated

Bryant expressed that the effort to help students catch up has made his job much harder.

“It’s gotten to the point where the skills deficits are so significant that we almost can’t function in teaching to the standards for the grade levels because they don’t have the skills necessary to access them.”

Teachers, including Angelique Schoorens, a special education teacher in Enfield, Connecticut, expressed relief upon watching the viral TikTok.

“It felt like a relief that a teacher was actually speaking about it in a public forum,” Schoorens told CNN.

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This article has been produced by TPR Teaching.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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