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Study: COVID impact on Arizona students deemed 'significant and broad'

A report released by The Arizona State Board of Education has attempted to estimate the depth of learning loss in schools since the beginning of the pandemic.

PHOENIX — Arizona schools are playing catch-up after nearly two years of quarantines, cancellations and classes online. 

A report released by The Arizona State Board of Education has attempted to estimate the depth of learning loss in schools.

The learning gap affected all students

According to the study released in November, there are multiple areas in which students have been experiencing issues with learning since the beginning of the pandemic.

Kids in early grades are being impacted more than any other grade level. More specifically, the impact on learning in Math and English has been called "significant and broad." One researcher called the setback unprecedented. 

The study also showed that the number of students who have changed schools or transitioned into homeschooling was higher in 2021 than in previous years. 

Students learning English as a second language struggled more than English-proficient students. State testing indicated that minority groups, specifically Hispanic and Latino students, were disproportionately more impacted than others, according to the comparison of 2019 and 2021 scores. 

Finally, high-achieving students were reportedly not immune to the impact of the changing learning models. 

Superintendent: Report reflects “lack of access”

In response to the report, Superintendent Kathy Hoffman told 12 News, in part:

“The data reflected in the State Board of Education’s COVID Impact Report doesn’t just tell us about academic impact, it reflects a lack of access to mental health care, limited access to digital infrastructure and technology, parent or caregiver job loss, poor access to high-qualities groceries and healthy food options, and the fact that many of families live in communities where economic growth and opportunity are too far out of reach."

The Center for Assessment conducted the study and, according to Dr. Damian Betebenner, the academic setbacks experienced in Arizona are similar to those measured across the country. 

People should not assume that there will be a “V-shape recovery," comparable to the economy. Instead, it will take years for students to get back on track, Betebenner said.

“Kids can catch up”

School districts and charter schools are implementing a range of measures intended to make up for setbacks in learning.

The Glendale Elementary School District now employs an acceleration learning specialist at each campus to make sure every student is reading every day.

Mesa Public Schools is funding an expanded summer school that will focus on getting students caught up.

The Phoenix Union High School District distributed pandemic funds to its schools to pay for after-school tutoring.

“The achievement gap, the learning gap is real. But kids can catch up,” said Dr. Chad Gestson, superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District. Gestson coordinates with thirteen elementary school districts that feed into the high schools.

Gestson said that, while he is optimistic that kids can get back on track, there are many needs that need to be acknowledged in addition to academic support.

"We’re also dealing with a mental health crisis here in Phoenix and in our nation,” Gestson said.

The study also concludes that recovery will likely require “multiple years” with “additional supports” for schools.

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