Were math skills truly destroyed by the pandemic? What is the solution?

“Disrupted learning during the pandemic brought student achievement among students in Boston and statewide to the lowest levels in a decade or more, according to new data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.” So began an article in the Boston Globe a few days ago.

Is this actually a crisis, or is it just a moral panic?

A headline in the Boston Globe reads “Massachusetts students hit 19-year low on national reading, math exams.” And later in the article you see that “Massachusetts scores hit their lowest point since 2003 or earlier in all four tests.” But then: “When Massachusetts scores are averaged across all four tests, the state continues to rank first in the nation overall.”

So what’s up here? Did math achievement drop in Massachusetts, but just not as much as in other states? And is this really about testing, not about math achievement? Let’s see what an editorial in the Washington Post says:

Likely the consequence of the coronavirus pandemic that upended lives and kept children out of classrooms for months, the declines were broad-based, with all states seeing some scores drop and none seeing gains. Almost all demographic groups were affected, but Black and Hispanic students lost the most ground.

It is no mystery what schools should be doing; several strategies to combat learning loss have already proved effective. Key to helping children learn is giving them more time to learn. Schools should invest in high-end tutoring, aimed particularly at struggling students, as well as in after-school enrichment programs and expanded summer school. Schools should add to the school day or year. That schools are still wedded to a calendar drawn in the 1800s is educational malpractice. Schools should also hire and promote quality teachers, using some of those federal dollars to reward teachers who show results lifting student achievement or who are willing to teach in schools where vulnerable students are most in need. Teachers unions, which have traditionally fought such reforms, should get out of the way.

Sounds simple, right? But it doesn’t take much to raise a whole bunch of appropriate objections. Perhaps we should look at what one school is actually doing, since specific success stories are worth a lot more than the abstractions of an editorial. The lessons from their story may or may not be transferrable, but they are worth thinking about.

Categories: Teaching & Learning