Early data from Virginia schools suggest that more students are struggling academically as the majority of divisions continue to operate totally or partially remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a concern that educators have raised as they continue to navigate virtual instruction. According to a survey of 132 local districts conducted by the Virginia Department of Education, 40 ranked failing students as the biggest issue with remote learning — above even access to reliable internet, which was the highest concern for about 35 divisions.
Nearly two dozen districts reported that the percentage of high schoolers and middle schoolers failing two or more classes had grown by more than 30 percent compared to last school year. And more than 50 divisions reported higher rates of absenteeism than the previous year.
The pandemic’s academic effect on students has been a continuing concern as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into 2021. In late March, Virginia became one of the first states in the country to close both public and private schools for the remainder of the year. Gov. Ralph Northam described it as a “period of sacrifice” amid early uncertainty over how the virus could affect students, teachers and families.
“While we must remain vigilant regarding the prevention and spread of SARS-CoV-2, we need to balance this important objective with the shared goal of providing in-person educational instruction to the children of Virginia,” Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver and James Lane, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, wrote in a joint letter earlier this month.
Some of the most concerning statistics on learning loss in Virginia come from scores on the PALS assessment — a literacy screening tool used by almost all school divisions across the state. Michael Bolling, the state’s assistant superintendent for learning and innovation, told the Virginia Board of Education at a Thursday meeting that PALS data showed significantly more kindergarten and first-grade students starting the current school year at high risk for reading failure compared to the previous year.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.