Black Students May Be Falling Behind Peers In Math, Reading During Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic forced most U.S. schools closed to curb the spread of the novel disease. Now, a report from a national education organization shows the early impacts on students, and Black children may be falling behind their white peers, according to NBC News.

NWEA, a research-based nonprofit focused on K-12 education, issued a test called the MAP assessment nearly 4.4 million American students between grades three through eight. After analyzing the test results, they found that most students "most fell short in math, scoring an average of 5 to 10 percentile points behind students who took the same test last year." Researchers said the students did better than expected when it came to reading.

The findings also showed that the disruption in schooling amplified the existing disparities. NWEA found that Black and Hispanic students, as well as those who attend high-poverty schools, saw a decline in both reading and math.

“It's a reason for concern and it’s a reason to really focus our attention on helping catch kids up,” Megan Kuhfeld said, an NWEA senior research scientist and the lead author of the study. Evidence revealed that school closings left vulnerable students lacking the skills needed to learn.

“They could fall further and further behind if they have holes in their learning,” Kuhfeld said. For example, it’s hard to learn to multiply fractions if you haven’t mastered adding and subtracting them, she explained.

Another testing organization, Renaissance Learning, Inc., had similar findings to NWEA. Not only were reading and math scores were down, but students who are Black, Hispanic, Native American, rural or attend schools with high-poverty populations, "lost more ground than students with more advantages."

Experts worry vulnerable students could also be missing out on school entirely

The MAP assessment itself highlighted another educational issue during the pandemic: missing children. One in four of the students who typically participate in the assessment didn't take it this year.

"Students might not have been tested because they couldn’t connect with their online classes on test day. They might have been absent from school because of illness or quarantines. They might attend schools that decided not to test at all this year, given the many new challenges schools face because of the pandemic. Or the students missing from NWEA’s data might not be in school at all," NBC News wrote.

Districts nationwide reported "significant" drops in enrollment this fall. Three million of the country's most vulnerable children also could be displaced, reporters said. These students include those in foster care, who are homeless, who have disabilities and those learning English.

“The students we’re most worried about are likely the ones who are missing,” Kuhfeld said.

Despite the scary results, there's good news

NWEA researchers did find a silver lining in their findings. "Student scores in both reading and math came in higher than NWEA predicted in an earlier report — [but] it’s hard to know how significant that is. It’s possible students are learning remotely better than had been feared, or that parents have been able to supplement their learning with extra lessons," according to NBC News.

Some teachers and other educational officials are also doing their part to make sure students don't fall behind. Kevin Culley teaches at Joseph J. Rhoads elementary school. After looking at their MAP scores, he was surprised to see so many of his students to be half a grade level behind.

“Those scores were a little scary,” Culley told NBC News. To remediate this, the Texas teacher decided to implement some measures to help his students: interventions and overhauled lessons that include fun interactive approaches to the material. Culley also made sure to do this for both his in-person and virtual students.

“The test is something that looms over their heads, and I really am concerned about how this is going to affect their confidence,” Culley said. “Once you have broken a child’s confidence, it’s difficult to get them to continue to push forward.”

Photo: Getty Images

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