COVID has wreaked havoc on children’s learning and grades, US family survey finds

Last spring, after teaching their children at home for most of the 2020-21 school year, Rob and Melissa Seger sent their oldest daughter back to school in March.

By this time, Rob Seger, who is a cancer survivor with epilepsy, was completely immune. Students, educators and other school employees wore masks at school. Personal and building hygiene was stepped up, so the couple felt a lot was being done to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 at school.

Yet they chose to keep their twin daughters, then in kindergarten, at home for the rest of the school year. The girls had been educated remotely, and everything was going well, so there didn’t seem to be any reason to change their routine with only a few months left in the school year, said Melissa Seger.

Although that didn’t seem to be the case at the time, and because most students in Utah attended school in person almost every day last year (with an apprenticeship remotely one or two days a week, depending on school district or charter school), the Segers’ decision to keep their kindergarten children learning at home – despite choosing to attend in person – was over typical of what parents have done nationally.

How has the pandemic affected children’s learning?

The latest U.S. Family Survey, released Tuesday in Washington, says more than half of those polled whose children did not attend school in person chose not to return to class when given the opportunity. . This was the case for more than 6 in 10 Democrats as well as just under half of Republicans, according to the survey.

The American Family Survey, conducted jointly by Deseret News and BYU’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, is now in its seventh year. This is a nationally representative annual study that examines how families experience, manage or cope with current events. YouGov, a global public opinion and data company, conducted the survey of 3,000 adults from June 25 to July 8, just before the COVID-19 delta variant became mainstream and before the start of the year school in progress. The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

For the Segers, it was about “sticking to what works rather than changing it again, because what we learn can be different from what they learn in school, and that could be overwhelming. ”Said Melissa Seger.

Vivian Seger, 6, does her homework at her home in southern Jordan on Thursday, October 7, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Parents surveyed said their children’s grades and learning had suffered in the aftermath of the pandemic, with nearly 20% of parents revealing their children’s grades were deteriorating and nearly a third reporting a drop in performance. learning.

“Just chaos”

Since the start of the pandemic, Charlie and Kimi Bradley’s children have moved from in-person to distance learning as the number of COVID-19 cases rises and falls, and public health advice evolves .

There were also times when the public school system in Wake County, North Carolina, where the Bradleys’ three daughters attended school, observed hybrid schedules – a mix of in-school and virtual learning.

The Bradleys had the added challenge of juggling their daughters’ school schedules with work responsibilities, he the CEO of a foundation and she a nurse.

“It was just chaos. It was just total chaos and I think a lot of people felt that way. I mean, we just never knew “when schools would switch to another time or format and the family would have to find a way to accommodate,” he said.

Distance learning was difficult for all of their children, ages 12, 10 and 8. Their younger and older daughters are very social and have failed to interact with their classmates and teachers in person.

Their 10-year-old has a learning disability and after a few hours of screen time, “she just passed away,” Charlie Bradley said.

“I think they’ve all definitely taken a step back in their learning over the past year and a half,” he said.

“Virtual learning just wasn’t right for my kids. “

Their eldest daughter is now enrolled in a charter school, which has been more nimble in adjusting her school schedule compared to the Wake County public school system, which is one of the largest in the United States. It has 194 schools and serves some 162,000 learners in Raleigh and surrounding communities.

Meanwhile, the Bradleys’ younger daughters have returned to public school.

Melissa Seger is helping her daughter Gwendolyn, 6, with her homework at their house in southern Jordan on Thursday, October 7, 2021.

Melissa Seger is helping her daughter Gwendolyn, 6, with her homework at their house in southern Jordan on Thursday, October 7, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The Segers considered sending their eldest daughter back to school this fall, but decided not to do so after Salt Lake County Council rejected a health ordinance calling for masks to be worn inside elementary schools . The ordinance targeted primary schools because children under 12 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

With the increase in the delta variant, the Segers were concerned that their children would be exposed to the virus at school and take it home, which their daughter understood.

“She says, ‘I’m okay with home schooling, but please I don’t want to do virtual again,” “said Melissa Seger.

“She really struggled with it. For some reason she was fine at first and then over time it got really hard for her to learn. So this year, we decided to keep them at home.

Parents who responded to the American Family Survey expressed similar challenges. Almost a third of parents said their children’s learning had suffered and 19% said their grades were worse.

The “COVID-19 slide”

National organizations that have looked at the so-called ‘COVID-19 slide’ in learning report that math skills have been particularly affected. Students were “likely to show much lower learning gains, coming back with less than 50% of learning gains and in some years almost a full year behind what we see under conditions. normal ”, according to Northwest Assessment Association, a non-profit testing organization,

Students returned to school in 2020 “with about 70% of learning gains in reading compared to a typical school year”, according to the association.

Meanwhile, the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. predicted greater learning losses for black, Hispanic and low-income students. Access to technology is an important factor as well as access to a quiet space to participate in distance learning with minimal distractions, access to high-speed internet and parental academic supervision.

The Seger’s oldest daughter, Lydia, now in fifth grade, has fallen behind in math, but the family has found a math program “that works really well and gets her up to grade level,” her mother reports.

“I think she was a bit late, which is unfortunate as she was a bit early before the pandemic,” said Melissa Seger.

The full extent of the learning loss associated with the pandemic is not yet understood. Many school systems experienced a drop in enrollment during the 2020-21 school year, which was attributed to parents choosing to teach their children at home, switching to virtual learning, or not enrolling. kindergarten children in school.

Even in child-rich Utah, public school enrollment declined for the first time since 2000, which was a worrying trend, especially among younger learners.

“There is a lot of data at different stages of a child’s academic progress where they need to meet certain benchmarks at a certain age or they are falling behind academically,” Rich Nye, Granite School District superintendent, “which has an impact, literally, for the rest of their lives.

Norma A. Roth