Portland study finds prolonged school shutdowns pose pitfall for student learning

MEDFORD, Ore.– Oregon students, and students across the country, are poised to face a pitfall in academic learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. With lengthy school shutdowns, a research study from Portland projects students will not be as well equipped returning in the fall.

Studies show elementary to middle school students usually lose a portion of a year’s education in what is commonly called a summer slide. With in-person classes shut down due to coronavirus, one study by Northwest Evaluation Association or NWEA has found that slide will become much steeper.

“It provides some estimate, limitations notwithstanding, about what we might expect when kids are out of school for a prolonged period of time,” said Beth Tarasawa, executive vice president of research for NWEA.

The Portland non-profit research firm has been around for 40 years and according to Tarasawa, tests about 1 in 4 students across the country. As co-author of this new study, Tarasawa says they sampled 5 million students from 3rd grad to 8th grade.

Expanding upon its summer slides developed for normal school years, it projects that with this prolonged period students will retain a year’s learning of reading and writing up to 70 percent. Math would be 50 percent.

“There are tons of caveats and that hopefully these are overestimates,” said Tarasawa. “We have time much like we’re trying to flatten the curve in kind of the pandemic sense, I think we’re trying to think about how might we flatten that slope.”

The firm acknowledges some schools have already done well to connect parents with resources to continue students education. However, low income, special needs or ESL students will bear the brunt of this slope.

“We have to start thinking about the longer-term implications, so really clear about a restart plan now,” said Tarasawa. “We might not know exactly when that restart is but thinking about how we are doing support, what kind of instructional remediation resources.”

Recommendations have been made to the Oregon Department of Education. Aelxa Pearson, ODE’s Director of Standards and Instructional Support, reviewed the study and agreed students in Oregon will “experience consequences both academic and social-emotional.”

She went on to state, “Oregon educators will continue to collect evidence of student engagement and learning wherever possible, and provide students with descriptive feedback that can continue our emphasis on Care, Connectivity, and Continuity of Learning during Distance Learning for All.

Tarasawa hopes that with study, it can help Oregon become a leading example in the effort to make sure these students make up for the lost time.

“How are we working with our state department, how are we working across superintendents and geography to understand what’s working and to be able to scale particularly to serve some of our more vulnerable populations,” she said.

NWEA says it will continue researching in depth the impacts of this prolonged closure to help schools find the best practices.

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