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(NEW YORK) — As the coronavirus pandemic upends a third consecutive school year, Adam Solovoy, of Chicago, said learning loss due to the pandemic is something he has witnessed firsthand in his two daughters, ages 10 and 9.
“When they do take the standardized testing that they take every year, their scores were, in certain areas, behind where they were supposed to be,” said Solovoy, whose daughters have gone through a mix of school closures, remote and in-person learning since March 2020.
Experts said that for children across the country, the lack of a routine due to the pandemic is taking a toll on their education.
Nationwide, children are scoring about 9 to 11 percentile points lower in math and 3 to 7 percentile points lower in reading compared to historic averages, according to studies led by Karyn Lewis, Ph.D., a senior research scientist for NWEA, a nonprofit organization focused on education policy.
Lewis said the education gaps are largely due to what she calls “unfinished learning,” a result of remote learning, quarantines, school closures and teacher shortages brought on by the pandemic.
“Students have lost out on instructional opportunities,” Lewis told ABC News. “They have unfinished learning relative to what we’d expect in a typical year if they got the full dose.”
Many students in the U.S. are also facing disproportionate educational adversity, according to Jacques Steinberg, a former New York Times education journalist and author of “The College Conversation.”
“It’s a particularly hard time if you are a student from a low-income or other marginalized background where there were already inequities in your education before any of us had ever heard of the coronavirus,” Steinberg said. “Those have only been exacerbated over the last two years.”
With most schools now doing in-person learning, thanks to the success of mitigation strategies like masking, social distancing and regular COVID-19 testing, teachers are now more able to help their students get up to speed.
But experts like Lewis warn that closing the gap will not happen overnight, with long-term solutions like increased access to summer enrichment programs, Saturday academies and tutoring needed.
“This is not a one to two-year endeavor to get kids back on track,” she said. “This is going to take a really sustained effort.”
Parents who are concerned about their children’s learning loss can also take a proactive role by monitoring their behaviors, according to parenting expert Rachel Simmons, author of the bestselling book “Odd Girl Out.”
Specifically, parents can watch for changes related to their children and school like sudden anxiety and hesitation around school work, frustration, negative self-talk and changes in grades, according to Simmons.
“Be in touch with your child’s teacher,” Simmons said Wednesday on Good Morning America. “Find out how they’re doing relative to their peers and even how they’re doing relative to last year.”
Behavioral changes are also something to watch for, according to Simmons, who noted that kids may have trouble adjusting to socialization amid the pandemic.
“No kid is born knowing how to be friends and when we don’t use a muscle, we lose it,” she said. “If you’re noticing your child has fallen back, they’re worried about unstructured play especially, like going to the playground or a sleepover, that’s a sign not that they can’t do it, but that their muscle is out of practice. They’re going to need to take smaller steps to get back to where they were.”
Simmons recommends talking and brainstorming with children before they get into a challenging situation, and having honest conversations about their feelings.
“We have to tell our kids it’s okay to feel anxious and frustrated,” she said. “This is a really anxiety-provoking and frustrating time.”
Most of all, Simmons encourages parents to “be patient” as their child works through pandemic-related difficulties.
“It is so scary to watch your kid fall behind, but by putting pressure on them and visiting our anxiety on them, it’s not going to get them where they need to go,” she said. “Stay connected with their teachers and get professional help if your child can’t do day-to-day activities.”
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