Parents Unaware of the Full Impact of COVID on Academic Achievement, Study Finds

Last week, as education experts gathered once again to discuss the slow recovery from pandemic learning loss in the United States, Jens Ludwig, a professor at the University of Chicago, made a bold statement. He claimed that this is the biggest problem facing America, but also noted that there is not enough urgency surrounding the issue. The conversation took place at an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Aspen Institute, a prominent think tank.

Education experts gathered in Washington last week to discuss pandemic learning loss. From left, Jens Ludwig from the University of Chicago, Nat Malkus of the American Enterprise Institute, T. Nakia Towns of Accelerate and Melissa Kearney of the Aspen Institute. (Aspen Institute)

A new paper released on Monday delves deeper into what experts have labeled an “urgency gap.” The authors of the paper spoke to parents to assess their understanding of their children’s progress in school. The researchers found that parents are generally unconcerned about the lasting effects of the pandemic and believe their children are doing well academically. However, this view contradicts the dismal state and national test scores. The issue is perplexing, according to Morgan Polikoff, the lead author of the paper and an associate education professor at the University of Southern California.

According to Polikoff, parents often receive positive messages from teachers and grades that suggest their children are performing well. This positive outlook is due to parents paying little attention to standardized test scores, which are the primary concern for researchers. In fact, standardized tests were rarely discussed in the interviews conducted by the researchers.

Parents’ concern about their children’s performance has decreased significantly since 2021, despite researchers’ warnings about the long-term impact of the pandemic. (University of Southern California)

The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed significant declines in math performance and stagnant reading performance. Even this year’s spring test results showed that many states are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Numerous states have not yet surpassed pre-COVID levels in math, and reading proficiency has declined for several states. Additionally, international scores released last week indicate a 13-point drop in math performance among U.S. students from 2018 to 2022.

Jens Ludwig argues that the $190 billion allocated by Congress to address the COVID crisis is insufficient to combat the learning loss. He suggests that an additional $75 billion should be invested in high-dosage tutoring programs. Ludwig warns about the long-term consequences of not addressing this issue, claiming that this cohort of 50 million children could face a significant reduction in lifetime earnings, estimated at around $900 billion.

Despite the efforts of educators and researchers, the message about the severity of the learning loss often does not reach parents. According to Meredith Dodson, executive director of San Francisco Parent Action, parents can easily feel overwhelmed by the multitude of tests and assessments administered by schools. Parents primarily want to trust their children’s teachers and determine whether their children are performing at grade level.

Even when parents are aware of their children’s standardized test scores, they often give more weight to grades. Polikoff’s research found that one parent acknowledged that her son scored lower than the majority of students on a math test but argued that his actual knowledge was greater because he received a high grade on his report card.

District A is smaller but has above-average student achievement, while District B is larger with achievement levels around the national average. Despite scoring below grade level and having high absenteeism rates, both districts have seen an increase in B grades since 2019. (EdNavigator, Learning Heroes and TNTP)

Schools have unintentionally made it easier for students to improve their grades due to policies implemented during the pandemic to ensure completion of assignments. The excess opportunities to raise grades have led students to be

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