Has COVID created a generational gap in education?

While COVID-19/coronavirus has captured headlines and sound bites for the pandemic’s impact on health, a lessor known, more insidious impact could be on the delayed learning of a whole generation of students.

Shelly Novell, Center ISD’s director or curriculum, instruction and assessment, told school board members at a November board meeting, the pandemic has slowed learning for students across the district. Especially at risk are the youngest students who would normally be learning the basics of reading and writing, she said.

“I’m going to be honest here, I think we’re going to have to work very hard so we don’t have a generational education problem,” she said at the Nov. 12 meeting.

In addition to students not being in classrooms over the traditional summer break, she said they also missed the final fourth of the 2019-2020 school year when schools across the state were shutdown due to the pandemic.

Norvell said assessment tools used by the district indicated that screening for kindergarten through second graders on letter sound knowledge, decoding, fluency and accuracy on reading showed major issues. About 41 percent of the district’s students rated “well below” average while another 23 percent of Center ISD students in those grades rate “below” average.

“As you can see, we have a lot of work to do,” Norvell said. Only 10 percent of the district’s k-second graders rated above average while 26 percent were on target at the average level of reading, she said.

After getting those results, Norvell said diagnostics were done to help determine specifics on what areas CISD students were deficient on.

“We’ve already started interventions with our reading specialists,” she said. That extra attention is focused on the 64 percent of district students in the below and well below average students.

For students with average reading aptitude “we keep pushing to get them to a high level,” Norvell said. An effort is being made to visit with students one-on-one to provide individualized training on the specifics of what they need to work on advance to a higher level of reading comprehension.

While it may be difficult to pinpoint the difference that time out of the classroom has made on student progress and retention, Norvell indicated the trends point toward indicating

“The majority of our students in third grade up are coming right back in where we left off in March, the majority of them,” she said. “The biggest impact that we’ve seen in the district is with kids who are in second grade right now.

“We are normally used to having only 40 percent below” grade level, she said, but this year that number is in the 70 percent range.

“That being said, you think about first grade, that’s when you basically learn your foundations for reading,” Norvell said. “That’s when things start to click after Christmas and they missed that whole last fourth of their first grade.”

Board President Matthew Mettauer asked if those trends seen locally have been reflected in districts across Texas.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people,” Norvell said. “And they’re either they’re seeing their first graders having a big impact, or second graders — it’s right there statewide that it’s really made it difficult for those kids.”

Norvell said she feels a big difference from the students’ standpoint is when they were taught phonics.

She said the district has implemented programs to focus on phonics with progress being noticed.

“Our big focus right now is utilizing every single moment we have on task to make sure we’re not spending 10 minutes in the hall when we can get it down to five, because those five minutes add up over the course of a week,” Norvell said. ‘There’s a difference in urgency.”

“It’s been a hard year for everybody, it really is,” she said. “We’re asking a lot out of kids, but we’re asking a whole lot out of teachers too. They know the kids are behind and they’re teaching in uncertain times.”

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Dec. 3 print edition of The Light and Champion.

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