Schools, families still deal with pandemic’s challenges

The fall semester has begun, and for most schools it started much like it ended, with students at home trying their best to learn from teachers who are trying their best to be understood without the benefit of personal interaction.

We’re sure that few people expected, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close in March, that we’d still be struggling with the disease almost a half-year later.

Fortunately, educators, students and their families have a better idea of what to do than they did when remote learning was instituted in the spring. Most school districts used the summer months to better prepare and equip themselves for homebased education. Many acquired and distributed computer tablets for students who didn’t have them, and place school bus-based Wi-Fi signal routers in neighborhoods to serve families that otherwise wouldn’t have internet access.

Despite these adjustments, however, most people surely agree that for most students the learning process isn’t the same.

The effects brought by the pandemic were common enough to garner a nickname: the COVID slide. The Northwest Evaluation Association, an Oregon-based not-forprofi t educational research organization, estimates that on average, student reading proficiency through remote learning is 70% of that gained through classroom instruction, and less than 50% in math.

Lack of connectivity is only part of the problem. Families reported the difficulty siblings had when they had to share one device. Some parents struggled working with the youngest students, who were barely learning the alphabet or how to write — especially when the parents had to split their time among all their children.

Teachers lost the ability to help many students because they couldn’t read nonverbal signals from those who might need help but were afraid or embarrassed to ask for it.

Attendance was also an issue as some students didn’t appear at class time. Some didn’t have the resources to connect, while some who already had truancy issues simply disappeared.

These challenges led many schools to simply forgo testing and show lenience in grading rather than penalize students for the unusual circumstances.

Despite the admirable progress that has been made in the past few months, most people will be glad when it’s safe to resume inclass instruction. It’s increasingly urgent, therefore, for everyone to do everything we can to reduce transmission of the virus and bring life back to normal.

A governor’s order to reopen schools won’t magically make students safe. Defiance of safety requests and orders won’t scare the virus away. Fighting the inconveniences will only prolong them.

Officials and advocates already warn that American students are falling behind their peers in other countries with respect to standardized tests. The longer it takes to bring them back to class, the further behind they could fall.

Our progress in large measure depends on the readiness of future generations to meet the challenges they face. That readiness depends greatly on our ability to overcome current challenges and make their lives normal again.