Pandemic slump: The pandemic’s effects on academic progress

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Change this caption before publishing(WILX)
Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 10:45 PM EDT
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MID-MICHIGAN, Mich. (WNEM) - Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled the Michigan Blueprint for Comprehensive Student Recovery in an effort to combat the pandemic’s effects on students.

It covers not only the impact on academic progress but also emotional, physical, and mental health.

Many parents say they’ve seen these effects first-hand after a year of back-and-forth between virtual and in-person learning. One of those parents is Ashley Simons.

“Virtual learning has been, to say the least, a challenge,” Simons said.

For her daughter in high school, the lack of socialization has been one of the hardest parts. But for her sixth-grader, he hasn’t been able to get the one-on-one instruction he needs.

“With him having a learning disability, and virtual, he’s running into a lot of isolation that he would not have if he were face-to-face,” Simons said.

The Michigan Education Association said Simons’ children exemplify exactly what many students are experiencing amid virtual learning.

“What we’re seeing not only are there potentials for delays in learning but there’s certainly an impact when it comes to social and emotional health,” said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs.

Pratt said virtual learning just isn’t as effective for most students and, in turn, it’s made this past year especially difficult for teachers.

“We’ve heard some educators even talk about it like teaching blindfolded,” Pratt said. “Seeing that a-ha moment for a student, it’s like, ‘Oh, now I get it.’ That’s really hard to get over a Zoom call, especially if because of internet connectivity or lack of engagement, the camera is off.”

And teachers believe that difficulty reaching virtual students is translating to students falling behind.

A study from March found more than half of teachers report a significant learning loss over the course of the pandemic. Thirty percent say students are one to three months behind and another 27 percent say it could be up to six months.

Benchmark tests could reveal how far behind Michigan students are in a few weeks.

Pratt said results will help them determine how to plan for next year.

“That’s part of what individual districts are going to have to figure out and use the benchmark data to determine,” Pratt said.

As districts work on next year’s plans this summer, Simons hopes it means getting back to normalcy.

“I’m hoping things turn around and we can get back to going to school every day and having a summer vacation and not having the kids home,” Simons said.

Simons said her daughter was so affected by virtual learning that she’s transferring districts to a school she believes has less risk of going virtual again.

Meanwhile, Pratt from the MEA said, because of pandemic challenges, it’s even more crucial kids keep up with some form of academic engagement, like reading, this summer.