VIDEO: Calm Before the School COVID Storm by Asso. Editor Aswad Walker

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of most U.S. schools in the spring, students were thrown into new and unfamiliar ways of learning. The true toll these disruptions have taken on student learning won’t be known for years, but a recent report offers a glimpse into how the coronavirus pandemic has affected students’ academic performance – and it’s no surprise that minority students were hit hardest.

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The report comes from NWEA, a nonprofit organization that measures the growth and performance of students from grades pre-K to 12. Researchers examined how students this year performed relative to their peers last year, whether they saw academic growth since the pandemic began and how their test scores compared to earlier projections.

The study’s authors looked at test scores from this fall for about 4.4 million public school students in grades 3-8. The data was collected from about 8,000 schools across 46 states. While a majority of students did better than expected in reading — scoring at levels similar to typical non-pandemic years — this wasn’t true for Black and Hispanic students and those who attend high-poverty schools. Those groups of students saw slight declines, suggesting the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing educational disparities, possibly setting children who were already behind their white and more affluent peers even further behind.

While there is no exact data as of yet, Fort Bend Independent School District is among those schools trying to combat that problem head on.

“The data in Fort Bend ISD indicates that many of our students are struggling with the impact of COVID-19, and we are concerned about the same national trends impacting our Black, Hispanic and low-income students,” said Fort Bend ISD President Addie Heyliger. “We are analyzing our data and drilling down to the individual student-level to identify their needs so we can provide interventions both inside and outside of the classroom, including wraparound supports for the families.”

“We do want to caution that the fact that we’re not seeing very big differences right now could underestimate the gaps that may be forming for the students who are fully disengaged from school and missing from our data,” said Megan Kuhfeld, the lead author of the study.

Students of all racial groups performed worse in math compared to their peers last year, with scores about 5 to 10 percentage points lower, according to the report.

And though students in almost all grades 3-8 are showing growth in reading and math from the time the pandemic began, they improved in math at a lower rate on average than their peers in previous years.