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Pandemic learning loss recovery will require addressing all student needs, not just academics

The teacher is talking to her students.
Scott Willis
Teachers prepare students for daily group lessons.

A recent federal studyreports that math and reading scores for 9-year-olds took a big hit during the pandemic. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, reading scores saw their highest decrease in 30 years, and math scores had their first decrease in the history of the study.

Educators are heading back to the classroom with the study in mind. New York State School Boards Association's David Albert said teachers will be continuing their work in making up for learning loss.

“We’re going to see schools spending some of the funds they receive from the federal and state government that will allow them to address some of the learning gaps, as we call them, and it brings students back up to where they need to be,” Albert said.

Some education experts are now concerned that students’ lack of achievement needs to be examined beyond test scores to improve how students can learn. Assistant Professor at Syracuse University’s School of Education Courtney Mauldin said teachers need to go beyond the curriculum to genuinely help their students.

“We still have to go the extra mile in terms of, do our students have the general needs, the essentials, are they having access to quality lunch, do they have food, do they have water, do they have shelter,” Mauldin said. “Are we doing the small steps that actually do help us to foster relationships and establish trust and create the school as a place of refuge, which is what it once was for many students?"

Mauldin said the pandemic brought a big loss to educators and students alike, making it difficult to return to regular school days. However, Mauldin said acknowledging all aspects of loss over the last few years will aid in students' recovery.

“We have to really consider these other external factors that really shape student outcomes and if that’s not a priority that’s on the table then we’re not going to see the improvements that we want to see,” Mauldin said. “We’re just going to keep replicating the outcomes we’ve always had.”

Jamesville-DeWitt Central School District, Westhill Central and most grades in the Fayetteville-Manlius district return to school Tuesday. Many other Central New York schools start their new year later this week.

Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.