Latino Students Fall Behind in Math, Reading Due to COVID-19 School Closures


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When schools closed down and switched to online learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some students began falling behind in class.

The students most affected? Latino and Black children.

Several studies measured testing scores in math and reading for elementary school students in Fall 2020 compared to Fall 2019.

A report by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) found that while some students are improving, Latino and Black students are falling behind their white peers.

“While a majority of students did better than expected in reading — scoring at levels similar to typical nonpandemic years — this wasn’t true for Black and Hispanic students and those who attend high-poverty schools,” according to NBC News.

The trend is concerning as it highlights the growing disparities between children of color and their white peers, especially as Latino and Black people have been hit the hardest by COVID-19.

Update 2021: “Compared to 2012, the 2020 mathematics scores for White, Black, and Hispanic 9-year-old students and for White 13-year-old students were not significantly different while the mathematics scores for Black and Hispanic 13-year-old students were lower,” according to the NAEP 2021 report.

Latino and Black Students Fall Behind

Educators and parents have suspected that online learning would bring challenges.

latino teen student distance learning laptop computer home coronavirusBut now, we can actually see the data that indicates students are falling behind.

One of NWEA’s studies analyzed test results of about 4 million students in 3rd to 8th grade, comparing test results from 2019 to this fall.

The results were clear – students scored 5 to 10 percentile points lower on math tests than last year.

Latino and Black students also did worse on reading tests than in previous years.

“It’s a reason for concern and it’s a reason to really focus our attention on helping catch kids up,” said Megan Kuhfeld, an NWEA senior research scientist and the lead author of the study, according to NBC News.

What’s worse is that many students did not take the test this year, so the numbers may be skewed and may actually be much worse.

“The study was limited by the fact that a high number of students — 1 in 4 — who typically take the NWEA’s widely used MAP assessment in the fall didn’t take it this year. Many districts across the country have reported significant drops in enrollment this fall, with one study estimating that 3 million of the nation’s most vulnerable children — those who are homeless, in foster care, have disabilities or are learning English — could be displaced from school,” according to NBC News.

Other reports have found similar results.

A report from the Los Angeles Unified School District showed that Black and Latino middle and high schoolers were falling behind due to lack of participation in online learning.

“Low-income students and Black and Latino students showed participation rates between 10 and 20 percentage points lower than white and Asian peers, according to study cited by The [Los Angeles] Times,” reports ABC7.

The disparities may stem from a lack of access to computers and internet.

This highlights the digital access gap between white students and students of color. In Texas, for example, 66% of students who lack adequate Internet access are Black, Latino, or Native American.

“These are deeply disturbing, yet not surprising data,” UCLA education professor Tyrone Howard, who also directs the Black Male Institute, told The Times. “Unfortunately, what these data remind us is that race, socioeconomic status, disabilities and disadvantage still matters.”

People of Color are Hurt by COVID-19

The data about Latino and Black students falling behind in math and reading is troubling.

It’s even more troubling when considering that it’s these families who are struggling the most with COVID-19.

“Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors, according to the new data, which provides detailed characteristics of 640,000 infections detected in nearly 1,000 U.S. counties,” according to a report in The New York Times. “And Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people, the data shows.”

latina hair salon worker wearing face mask amid covid-19 coronavirus caseLatino and Black people are often front-line workers, leaving them at risk for infection.

Dealing with the stresses of being exposed and a high infection risk leaves parents little time to help with schoolwork.

“At the same time, the coronavirus crisis has taken a uniquely devastating toll on Black and Latino families, whose members disproportionately work as essential front-line workers, frequently in low-paying jobs that have exposed family members to health risks and prevented them from overseeing their children’s schoolwork at home,” according to ABC7.

Not only is COVID-19 threatening the health and livelihood of many Latino and Black people, but it also is hurting children who are falling behind in school.

“Those groups of students saw slight declines, suggesting the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing educational disparities, possibly setting children who were already behind their white and more affluent peers even further behind,” according to NBC News.

Educators and parents must take an active role in ensuring the gap created in the pandemic won’t have long-lasting effects.

How Can We Help Students Who are Falling Behind?

COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives.

As we continue to fight the virus, here are some methods we can use to fight COVID-19 learning loss:

  1. Focus on student’s strengths, not weaknesses.

“If we take an asset-based approach to learning loss, we show our kids that while they didn’t finish their math curriculum, they did learn how to ask for help, manage their time, and cope with a new reality,” says Julie Mason from We Are Teachers. This can help build resilience and adaptability.

  1. Take advantage of community resources.

If tutoring is inaccessible for your family, find out what resources are available from your local public library, Mason suggests. They may have access to learning materials as well as internet and computer access.

  1. Focus on emotional learning and wellness.

“Supporting students’ social and emotional needs during COVID-19 is essential. Students cannot learn when they don’t have their basic needs met,” Mason says. Students should learn how to handle emotions and stress and can be taught this outside of the classroom.

  1. Provide extended learning time to students who need it.

Instead of being strict over deadlines, understand when students need more time to complete work, says Education Week. Extended learning time can allow for students to catch up without feeling like they have failed.

  1. Keep a close parent-teacher relationship.

Teachers should be able to check in with students and their families if a student appears to be falling behind in class. Higher parent engagement is beneficial for learning, according to Education Week.

How equitable is education in your area?

You can find out with by downloading a Health Equity Report Card from Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. With the report card, you can see how many of your neighbors face inequities in food access, education, income, health care, and much more.

Then you can email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share on social, and build the case to address health equity issues in at-risk areas!



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