A long road to student recovery amid pandemic 

Guest Opinion//August 19, 2022

A long road to student recovery amid pandemic 

Guest Opinion//August 19, 2022

Oliver Estrada, 5, receives the first dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine at an Adelante Healthcare community vaccine clinic at Joseph Zito Elementary School, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Phoenix. The pandemic has had a significant impact on students’ learning. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

With students now back in school, it’s time for Arizona to focus on the educational challenges the Covid pandemic created for educators, students and families.

While the full impact of the pandemic on student learning is still being determined, we do know that the impact has been significant, affecting nearly every student and school in the state.

When the pandemic struck, educators faced an unprecedented challenge to transition overnight to remote learning. As hard as educators worked, several factors — such as limited technology and student and teacher anxiety — restricted student learning. Ultimately, the educational needs of parents and students were not met.

Paul Luna

The return to classroom learning was a step in the right direction. Now that students are deeply engaged in classroom learning, it is clear that lost in-person instruction time will take several years to recuperate.

Arizona needs a comprehensive response that addresses the specific learning needs of students. The task is too large for educators to solve the problems on their own. They will need the support and help of business leaders, philanthropists and volunteers across the state.

From what we’ve learned so far, much of which is explained in “Increased Disruption, Decreased Progress,” which Helios Education Foundation produced in collaboration with Arizona Department of Education and Arizona State Board of Education, here are the key issues to address:

  1. Mathematics: At every grade level, mathematics scores have declined faster than in English Language Arts.
  1. Early Literacy: English Language Arts scores fell the most in the elementary school grades. If children aren’t proficient readers by third grade, they are unlikely to succeed in the upper grades.
  1. English Learners: During the pandemic, the existing achievement gap between English Learners and their English-proficient peers widened. Just as worrisome, enrollment of the English Learner population fell by 10% over two years. These vulnerable students will never be able to catch up if they don’t return to school.
  1. Vulnerable Students: Other students who were already behind before the pandemic — those who are low-income, Latino, Black, or Native American — now have additional gaps to overcome to catch up to grade-level learning.

These lingering effects on student learning have severe consequences for our students and our state, and we all need to focus on helping to address them.

Arizona will need to sustain a multi-year recovery effort structured around intentional strategies to address incomplete learning, accelerate student progress and provide targeted support to students and educators. It is essential that entities throughout the state prioritize sustained, collaborative studies of the pandemic’s impact on student learning and outcomes. We need to understand how students have struggled over the past two years and use proven methods to help them catch up.

Those solutions include intensive tutoring, additional instructional time in math and early literacy, as well as extensive outreach and support for vulnerable populations, which fell further behind during the pandemic.

The task is enormous. But there is some good news – researchers are starting to detect a rebound in student achievement during the 2021-22 school year. But Arizona cannot rest on those laurels. Students lost too much and fell too far behind during the pandemic.

This work is essential — and we all must participate. We can’t afford to lose a generation of Arizona learners.

Paul Luna is president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.