Nebraska Back to School

Many elementary school teachers were not able to provide direct instruction in academic skills more than once per week during school closures, with more than 20% reporting never providing direct instruction in academic skills. (Pixabay)

(Lincoln) -- As kids and parents navigate the uncertain territory of being back in school during a pandemic, a new University of Nebraska-Lincoln study shows elementary teachers nationwide believe just 3 out of 5 of their students were prepared to advance to the next grade level after schools shut down during the health emergency last spring.

Report co-author Marc Goodrich, assistant professor at the university, said just one-third of teachers were able to hold daily virtual meetings in real time with students, and most had to ask kids to practice math and reading skills on their own.

"But that's not a substitute for direct instruction, especially for the students who are struggling to acquire reading or math skills," Goodrich said. "Without that sort of face-to-face interaction, a lot of students might continue to fall behind."

School closures were in sync with CDC guidelines for kids to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19 by staying at least 6 feet apart, not possible in most classrooms. But closures also exposed a profound digital divide across the country, with many kids unable to attend class because they didn't have internet access or computers.

As many as 11 million students in grades K-5 received no instruction at all for up to 22 weeks of the school year.

Despite tremendous efforts by schools and teachers to provide instructional opportunities for students, Goodrich said the research suggests remote learning restricts access to high-quality education, especially for the most vulnerable students.

He noted that even before the pandemic, students from wealthier families had higher academic achievement than disadvantaged students, and the health crisis amplified those disparities.

"The lack of regular internet access, and the lack of opportunities to engage in live instruction that we saw - that were disproportionately affecting students from low-income backgrounds more - might lead to achievement gaps widening," he said.

Researchers found nearly 7 in 10 teachers did not believe remote instruction was effective, or were unsure about its effectiveness. Goodrich said his team plans to do multiple follow-up surveys throughout the school year to continue to track how COVID-19 is impacting education.

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