SoCal schools trying to address students' 'learning loss' during pandemic

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- LAUSD parent Ceylonya Ewell has done everything possible to prevent her youngest daughter Sophia from falling behind because of distance learning.

"There's a lot of unknown and that's the part that's really concerning me. We don't know what's lost at this point because the future hasn't happened yet," said Ewell.

And although Sophia is learning and has received outside tutoring to fill in the gaps, her mother is concerned about the modified curriculum online and the fact that taking a test in a classroom filled with your peers is different than taking a test at home.

"Those children who didn't get the additional support, teachers will have to give extra time to that student. It may slow the other students' progress. So it's going to be a real challenge of getting everyone where they need to be at the same time," said Ewell.

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According to educators, every student regardless of their grade has experienced some level of "learning loss" because of distance learning. In a nationwide assessment conducted by McKinsey & Company, students are learning only 67% of the math and 87% of the reading they normally would.

And for students of color, the numbers are even more alarming: 59% of math and 77% of reading. Looking at fourth graders in California for the fall of 2020, disadvantaged students learned 7% slower than other students, who learned 5% faster, creating a 12% learning gap.

"They might not have learned the entire curriculum of what was meant to be taught this year either because they weren't getting it from Zoom or because they're just so checked out, especially kids with ADHD, and there's a large percentage of them, they just can't focus to sit and learn in that way," said Jamie Bakal, a Los Angles-based education consultant. "The light is getting turned off in so many of them and it's hurting them socially. It's hurting them emotionally."

Rey Saldaña with the non-profit Communities in Schools says thousands of students from California's neediest communities have gone missing from distance learning. His organization works with districts like LAUSD to track them down.

"When a student shows up to school they bring their entire self, and if they are hungry and they are stressed with the problems that exist in their neighborhood and at home, that is going to impact learning loss and catching up even more. It may be that we're grading on a curve for the next several years," said Saldaña.

But administrators with the Alhambra Unified School District have a different approach to learning loss and prefer to use the term unfinished learning.

"We will figure it out because that's the passion of being in education. And wanting to ensure that students are learning. And I think right now, they're learning a whole lot more than reading, writing, math. Whatever those subjects are, they're learning a lot about life," said Janet Lees, an assistant superintendent with Alhambra Unified School District.

"What we need to do as teachers is go back to the skill level. We need to touch base, I don't care if they don't know the dates or they don't know history, but can they write, can they think for themselves? Can they make a valid argument," said San Gabriel High School history teacher Laura Armenta.

So the answer according to educators, isn't more school or a much longer school year, but a restructuring of how we teach and grade that allows for student engagement because when students are engaged, that motivates learning.
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