Researchers say students falling behind in math amid shutdown

Education

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — There is widespread concern from parents and teachers that the pandemic is causing kids to fall way behind in school. But one study says – math is especially an area to keep an eye on. A national education organization NWEA shows while students are performing about the same in areas of reading, they’re performing 5-10% lower in math than last fall.

Luca Shok is a math tutor in Rochester, who runs an independent business Rochester Math Teacher. When he teaches virtually, he loses that element of looking over a student’s shoulder, and watching a student solve a problem. Shok says all the steps, ins and outs of working through a math problem aren’t easy to convey over a screen.

“One of the things I really miss about in person learning, I can see what they’re doing, I can see them move their pencil, see their posture,” he said.

But this element is lost, and could be part of why NWEA findings show student’s are behind. “Different students have different learning styles, and many students learning style is to learn with other people around them. Not everyone learns well on their own,” Shok said.

Dr. Raffaella Borasi specializes in online learning and math at the Warner School of Education for the University of Rochester. She says equity problems also contribute to what students have missed. While most districts provide hot spots and MiFi devices to underserved areas, those usually come with limited data.

“Imagine if you have to be on Zoom for five hours a day, most of them may not be able to put video on and still stay within data plan,” she said. “Some may not want to put video on, they don’t want to share the environment they’re in.”

NWEA researchers agree. In fact, they expect a gap of students to be missing from data – students who come from areas and backgrounds most vulnerable to the pandemic. For this reason, they say they could even be underestimating the effect of COVID-19 on students.

Both Shok and Dr. Borasi say if there is any good from this – students are likely to develop those independent learning skills faster at a young age, because of the challenges they’re working with in the pandemic.

“The way that we would like people to teach and learn math is more hands on, but it’s not easy to translate, it can be done just requires a lot more training from the part of the teachers and again getting used to these different kinds of environments,” Dr. Borasi said.

Another piece of good news – the study found that in almost all grades, most students made learning gains in reading and math, however gains in the area of math were lower than average in fall 2020 than prior years. The students also scored better than the NWEA’s projections in reading.

The organization surveyed nearly 4.5 million students nationally, in grades 3rd through 8th who took a remote growth-assessment this fall. They say the study is among the first in an ongoing series. Researchers say differences by racial and ethnic groups are still emerging in the data, but it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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