12-State Study: Students in U.S. School Districts that Stayed Open during COVID Tested Better Than Remote Learners

By B.N. Frank

Over the years, American tech insiders (aka “Silicon Valley Parents”) have taken deliberate steps to limit their own kids’ use and exposure to screens.  This has included sending them to private low-tech or no-tech schools and requiring nannies to sign “No Screens” contracts.  In the meantime, American public school districts have gone to considerable expense to provide reportedly inferior high-tech curriculums to students (see 1, 2) with devices that may be collecting data on them.  So is it any surprise that a new study has determined students who switched to “remote learning” during COVID didn’t do as well on standardized tests?

From Gov Tech:


Study: Remote Learning’s Toll on Standardized Test Scores

A recent paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that on average across 12 states, remote learning correlated with far steeper drops in reading and math scores than in-person classes.

(TNS) — School districts that switched to remote instruction during the coronavirus pandemic did far worse on spring 2021 standardized tests than those that kept their classrooms open, according to a new analysis of scores in Minnesota and 11 other states.

On average, proficiency rates on statewide accountability tests dropped by 14.2 percentage points in math and 6.3 percent points in reading compared to 2019.

But districts that stuck with in-person learning the entire school year saw declines of just 4.1 points in math and 3.1 points in reading, according to a working paper published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“These interactions between test score losses and schooling mode are highly significant,” the authors wrote.

STUDY: VIRTUAL SCHOOLING DOESN’T SUPPORT LEARNING IN SAME WAY AS IN-PERSON

The results build onto previous research that shows summer breaks and weather-related disruptions also hurt student achievement.

“Our analyses demonstrate that virtual or distanced schooling modes cannot support student learning in the same way as in-person schooling. As such, educational impacts of schooling mode on students’ learning outcomes should be a critical factor in policy responses to future pandemics or other large-scale schooling disruptions,” they wrote.

The study’s authors include Brown University economics professor Emily Oster, who led a data-collection effort on schools and COVID-19 and became a prominent advocate for keeping classrooms open through the pandemic.

They cite other research that found school closures have had little to no impact on the level of coronavirus spread in communities.

The new test-score analyses, they said, “highlight the value of in-person learning and may provide a caution when considering school closures in the future.”

The study also adds to evidence that the pandemic has been especially damaging to the education of students of color.

Districts with low baseline proficiency rates and those with large shares of Black students were more likely to close. And among districts with more Black and Hispanic students, academic gains as measured by the tests were highly correlated with the decision to close or stay open.

“Although the impact of schooling mode on (reading scores) is fairly small for districts which are majority white, it is large for those districts with a majority of students of color,” the study found.

MINNESOTA SCORES

Minnesota in August released its 2021 test results, which showed pass rates in math fell from 55 percent to 44 percent since 2019 and from 60 percent to 53 percent in reading.

That data release also included information on test performance by learning mode.

Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said in August that disparities between in-person and remote learners demonstrate that the relationships students develop at school are important.

“It is not surprising data,” she said. “We know that being in school with staff matters.”

However, Minnesota’s results didn’t quite follow the 12-state trend. Although Minnesota districts with more in-person instruction did better on the math tests compared to previous years, districts with less in-person instruction actually did a little better in reading.

MANY DID BOTH

Gov. Tim Walz ordered Minnesota public schools to close and switch to distance learning when the virus began spreading in the state in March 2020. The state’s annual standardized tests, the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, were canceled that spring.

For the 2020-21 school year, Minnesota health and education officials issued guidelines that encouraged schools to use gradually more in-person instruction when coronavirus case rates in their areas were low.

As a result, 65 percent of school districts in the state employed a mix of in-person and remote instruction — most among the 12 states studied. Only Virginia had a smaller share of districts using in-person classes all school year.

The other states studied were Florida, where nearly all districts stayed open the whole school year, as well as Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming.

This school year, Walz has left it up to individual school districts to decide whether to stay open or not.

Aided by an influx of federal grants aimed at keeping schools open, nearly every Minnesota district has offered in-person classes for the first three months of the school year, despite high coronavirus case rates. Mask mandates remain widespread, and many districts have added online schools as an option for families.

STUDY CAVEATS

The authors said the test-score data likely understates the impact that closing schools had on students, because low-scoring students were less likely to sit for the spring exams.

That was the case in Minnesota, where the groups of students who took the spring 2021 tests posted pass rates of 55 percent to 68 percent in 2019, depending on the subject and grade. That compares to 2019 pass rates of 40 percent to 58 percent for the cohort that skipped the 2021 tests.

At the same time, the authors acknowledged that pandemic-related factors besides instruction mode — such as changes to child care or parents’ working conditions or lost access to tutoring — could have clouded the results.

On the one hand, areas with more in-person learning also had higher rates of COVID-19. On the other, places that closed schools also were more likely to implement other lockdown strategies.



“It is challenging to fully separate these effects,” they wrote.

©2021 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Additionally, health experts have warned and continue to warn about Bluelight exposure and digital addiction among people of all ages (see also 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), particularly kids (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).  Research has also determined that kids are more vulnerable to radiation exposure from screens and other wireless technology.  This has led to schools in the U.S. and worldwide replacing Wi-Fi with hardwired internet to reduce their exposure.

Activist Post reports regularly about unsafe technology.  For more information visit our archives and the following websites.

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