Low-Income Students More Likely to Be Learning Remotely, Study Finds

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NWEA, a nonprofit research group, warned in May that the spring school closures could cost students a third of their expected annual progress in reading and half of their expected progress in math. A subsequent analysis of fall test scores showed better results — no falloff in reading and more modest declines in math — but many disadvantaged students did not take the test, likely skewing the results.

Data from Zearn, an online math program used by some schools, shows widening performance gaps, with progress among low-income students falling by 14 percent since January, even as it rose by 13 percent among high-income students. A recent study of Dutch exams found the average student made “little to no progress” during an eight-week shutdown last spring, with disadvantaged students suffering the greatest learning loss.

“It’s nearly certain that remote learning will widen the achievement gap,” Ms. Lake said. “It’s been a complete disaster for low-income students.”

Among those affected are Dehlia Winbush of Kent, Washington, and her ten-year-old daughter, Nadira, who suffers from a behavioral disorder that causes swings between depression and aggression.

The move to remote learning last spring “was extremely horrible,” Ms. Winbush said. “It was constantly a fight to get her to log on, even though it was only for an hour.” The school-issued computer malfunctioned, and Ms. Winbush, who is visually impaired, was not able to read it well enough to help Nadira with lessons.

“I personally don’t think she learned anything,” she said.

The new school year, she said, brought a longer school day and “a really great teacher.” But the isolation deepened Nadira’s depression and led to a recent hospitalization. Ms. Winbush took time off from her job in a warehouse to be at her daughter’s side, but her absences caused her to lose the job, adding financial concerns to medical woes.

While Nadira’s screen flashes with interesting lessons — the rise of cities, defense mechanisms in animals — she is missing the social and emotional development that comes from being in a classroom.

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