Experts caution 'covid slide' looming for children out of school

Education experts fear that children who are out of school due to Covid-19 will experience backslide in their schooling and could potentially fall behind. CNN's Laura Jarrett reports.

Posted: May 4, 2020 8:38 AM
Updated: May 4, 2020 10:45 AM


The first-grader was finally getting to grips with reading. He'd made 'enormous progress,' said his special education teacher Jill Marangoni, who'd spent months working with him in New York. But then coronavirus closed the schools.

Seven weeks later, 'he's forgotten a lot of his sight words,' Marangoni told CNN. 'He is already back to those very basic reading skills where he's having to sound out every word. It's disappointing to see because he will be moving onto second grade next year and he's now going to be nearly two years behind.'

Marangoni usually has a caseload of 25 students, but with some of them unreachable at home she's down to working with just 10 children now. And she's seeing some others fall behind.

The big fear is that the annual 'summer slide' could supercharge the loss of learning for students having a hard time keeping up with their education in the lockdowns.

The 'double whammy'

In interviews with CNN, experts said academic losses could be particularly problematic for grade school students who should be in the process of laying critical foundations of reading, writing, and math skills that should be built on for years to come -- potentially robbing a generation of students of vital stages of learning.

'It's kind of a double whammy of starting to forget and losing that kind of academic mindset of being out of school, and missing out on a couple of important months of instruction,' said Megan Kuhfeld, a research scientist at the Northwest Evaluation Association's Collaborative for Student Growth Research Center.

'Come fall ... teachers may have students in their classrooms who are grade levels apart in their learning.'

Using existing data on learning loss typically seen in the summer from a national sample of over five million students in grades three through eight, Kuhfeld and her colleague, Beth Tarasawa, predict that extended school closures could potentially cause serious academic setbacks for students struggling to adapt to remote instruction. In a worst case scenario, they may retain only 70% of the gains they had made in reading and only 50% of the gains made in math.

Math could be a particular sticking point, Kuhfeld said.

'It appears that math is something that parents don't feel as comfortable doing with their kids,' she said. 'We find that math is often something that parents view as the school's domain to instruct students on. So typically, when school is out, math just happens less in the home than reading.'

Teachers and parents told CNN that their children are struggling to learn at home -- especially those with special needs or those who are used to interventions that depend on hands-on instruction.

'Their written language is really taking a hit right now,' said Marangoni, whose case load includes students in first through fifth grade. 'Fifth graders that were strong writers in school, who would never have turned in anything without editing it first -- you see what the work they're turning in. It's missing capitals, it's missing punctuation, run on sentences -- just lacking that quality that they had at school and that they just don't have now.'

Beth Scott, a mother of two, said she worries about her 8th grade daughter, who has dyslexia, keeping up with her peers.

'It's hard for her to focus on her own without having someone there to kind of guide her,' Scott said. 'Even though she has made great strides through the last five or six years ... she will be behind again. I feel like it kind of takes us back a little bit to several years ago, when we had just this year entered all mainstream classes and now she's trying to keep up.'

And it's not only parents and teachers who are worried -- children know that virtual learning isn't necessarily cutting it.

'I had a second grader say to me, 'Miss M, do you think I'm going to be allowed to go to third grade?'' Marangoni recalled. ''Um, am I doing OK? Am I going to be allowed to go to third grade?''

Educators said that students with resources are struggling to focus at home, but lower income kids are suffering the most right now.

'The inequities that we already were dealing with -- that we already knew about -- Covid is compounding all of these inequities,' said Sarah Crichton, who teaches US history to 11th graders.

She said her students in Brooklyn, New York, have had parents sick with coronavirus and have had to take care of younger siblings, or initially didn't have access to a computer or continue to deal with spotty Wi-Fi -- all making effective distance learning impossible. 'We're not trying to add additional stress to their lives right now.'

In other words, the 'covid slide' has the potential to widen the inequality gap in achievement if meaningful steps to disrupt the status quo aren't taken, experts caution.

Slowing the slide

Kufeld and Tarasawa at NWEA said they hope their research on potential learning losses will offer insights to think through ways to mitigate the effects of extended school closures right now.

In their paper released in April, they recommend that 'policymakers, educators, families, and communities should further their work to provide support, especially in mathematics, to students while school is disrupted.'

NWEA has also gathered a number of tools and resources for parents to use at home -- everything from free reading courses to free access to math textbooks.

Teachers said while they are concerned about their students during this challenging time, they are prepared to rise to the challenge come fall.

'It's always been the case that when we start school in September, we have students that have lacked some prerequisite skill,' said Crichton, 'but the teachers in my school -- I think already have a lot of experience in trying to bridge those gaps the best we can.'

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 895229

Reported Deaths: 9462
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1749772017
Ramsey722701040
Dakota66032572
Anoka62513568
Washington39357355
Stearns32821275
St. Louis28761399
Wright25354211
Scott25329181
Olmsted21750127
Sherburne18478126
Carver1629166
Clay11923103
Blue Earth1126366
Rice11234138
Crow Wing11003122
Chisago974676
Kandiyohi9660106
Otter Tail9611126
Benton8815124
Beltrami801794
Goodhue786596
Douglas7689100
Itasca752796
Mower721349
Winona702756
McLeod694483
Isanti681383
Steele669431
Morrison663479
Becker620873
Polk591684
Freeborn550846
Carlton529474
Nobles521654
Lyon518761
Mille Lacs516573
Nicollet510960
Pine500641
Cass491252
Todd483642
Brown465057
Le Sueur445933
Meeker422357
Martin378143
Wabasha366010
Waseca365132
Dodge351511
Hubbard349848
Roseau307931
Fillmore299115
Wadena298239
Redwood277845
Houston266817
Renville264151
Faribault253032
Pennington247529
Sibley246917
Kanabec241536
Cottonwood225032
Chippewa216342
Aitkin215850
Pope203210
Watonwan194920
Yellow Medicine185423
Rock174728
Swift169322
Koochiching168123
Stevens164511
Jackson159216
Clearwater155720
Marshall151122
Murray150911
Pipestone148329
Lake129824
Lac qui Parle120025
Wilkin119416
Mahnomen104714
Norman10389
Grant9719
Big Stone9365
Lincoln8705
Kittson71523
Red Lake70710
Traverse5996
Unassigned572124
Lake of the Woods5235
Cook3020

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 520452

Reported Deaths: 7289
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk80319799
Linn32142424
Scott26637292
Black Hawk21974378
Woodbury20490258
Johnson19778105
Dubuque18515241
Pottawattamie15890213
Dallas15320113
Story1380258
Warren8450104
Cerro Gordo7964123
Clinton7725114
Webster7326122
Des Moines7098105
Marshall669093
Muscatine6645117
Wapello6441144
Jasper619591
Sioux610177
Lee5908105
Marion557897
Buena Vista502149
Plymouth488388
Henry418655
Benton404859
Jones404862
Unassigned40470
Bremer395372
Washington391463
Boone389739
Carroll367755
Mahaska365365
Crawford353747
Dickinson314655
Jackson307747
Buchanan305741
Clay295536
Delaware294654
Kossuth289077
Fayette286353
Hardin284353
Tama279777
Page272533
Wright266149
Cedar265527
Hamilton259857
Winneshiek258143
Floyd255449
Clayton244459
Poweshiek237243
Madison234525
Harrison234379
Cass233466
Butler232744
Iowa229634
Jefferson223043
Mills220930
Winnebago215938
Hancock214639
Cherokee211347
Lyon206142
Appanoose205357
Allamakee203955
Calhoun196919
Shelby196442
Union191141
Humboldt185130
Grundy183637
Franklin183029
Mitchell182043
Chickasaw178922
Emmet178246
Louisa176953
Sac171026
Guthrie168137
Montgomery161745
Clarke160829
Keokuk150839
Palo Alto150532
Howard146824
Monroe142739
Ida130141
Greene127517
Davis124625
Lucas124426
Monona122939
Worth12139
Pocahontas120724
Adair114337
Osceola104818
Decatur101913
Taylor98514
Fremont95913
Van Buren93222
Wayne84525
Ringgold76729
Audubon74917
Adams5748
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