The full effects of school closures due to the pandemic on K-12 learning may not be known for several years, but a new study indicates the ramifications could be significant if not properly addressed. Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement this week requiring all K-12 students and staff to wear masks at school has reignited discussions about public health risks and student learning.
“We’re at a point in this pandemic where we have to balance the benefits with the costs of continuing some of these policies,” Washington Policy Center Education Director Liv Finne said, indicating she believes some parents will keep their children home due to the new policy announcement.
Throughout the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, people 20 years and younger have composed two percent of all hospitalizations in the state. In total there have been 473,000 cases of COVID-19 in Washington, with a survival rate of 98.8 percent. People 80 years or older have made up just three percent of COVID cases but nearly half of all deaths.
“The effort to protect the older population has fallen hardest on the children,” Finne said.
Research is indicating that the shutdown in response to the pandemic has had notable effects on academic and social development. A new study by McKinsey and Company found that “the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year.”
The study warns that the restriction on student learning could have a total impact to the U.S. economy of $128-188 billion annually. “The fallout from the pandemic threatens to depress this generation’s prospects and constrict their opportunities far into adulthood. The ripple effects may undermine their chances of attending college and ultimately finding a fulfilling job that enables them to support a family.”
In contrast to most countries, Sweden opted against lockdowns within its school system. A study was released in May by the Swedish Schools Inspectorate and among its conclusions was that principals felt “well prepared to handle the adjustments required due to the pandemic.” Although some schools experienced student/staff absences due to the virus, “schools have…developed different strategies to deal with this through a higher degree of collaboration between teachers, readiness for reorganization and various solutions for students to be able to participate in teaching from home.”
A lack of pertinent data from last year makes it difficult at this time to know to what extent the lockdowns specifically affected Washington student academic progress. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) issues an annual Nation’s Report Card on student performance but has yet to release anything from 2020, though it plans to release a report on the long-term trend in Mathematics and Reading for students between the ages of 9-13. Noting the learning difficulties associated with online instruction, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) requested a waiver from the federal government for standardized testing requirements.
OSPI has also announced that due to the school closures certain data won’t be available, including:
- 2019-20 student assessments
- 2019-20 student growth
- 2019-20 English Learner Assessments
- 2020-21 Kindergarten Readiness
- 2019-20 Ninth Grade on Track
While Inslee has ordered that all public schools must provide some form of in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year, details of that implementation have yet to be announced in some districts.
To address the “unfinished learning” that has occurred during the pandemic, the McKinsey study states: “The immediate imperative is to not only reopen schools and recover unfinished learning but also reimagine education systems for the long term. Across all of these priorities it will be critical to take a holistic approach, listening to students and parents and designing programs that meet academic and nonacademic needs alike.”