COVID’s impact on young learners

Eva Mihelich, News editor

Even though COVID-19 may seem like a distant memory, it is still affecting many people. Particularly, its effects are shown through young students who are now behind in their education.

In this year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (or “the Nation’s Report Card” as it is commonly called) reading and math scores of 4th and 8th graders drastically dropped since before the pandemic. Researchers believe that this is due to a number of pandemic-driven factors, such as the ineffectiveness of online courses for young learners and a shortage of teachers due to the many staff cuts from 2020.

The report showed that 4th grade math scores dropped for all racial and ethnic groups except for native Hawaiian-Pacific Islanders. It also showed that the gaps between white and black students is larger in 2022 than three years ago, exhibiting that minorities and the vulnerable are at risk from the pandemic.

“What we’re seeing is (lower performing) students … dropping even faster and we’re also seeing students who were not showing declines–students at the top, meaning students at the higher performing levels–they were holding steady before the pandemic or even improving,” said Peggy Carr, the Center’s Commissioner.

Unfortunately, all students are dropping now. No states or large urban districts showed improvements in math which is a great cause for concern as students may now struggle moving onto high school or college. Carr said that it makes the most sense that math scores were impacted by the pandemic. “Math is just simply more sensitive to schooling. You really need good teachers to teach math,” said Carr.

Mercyhurst is home to many Early Childhood Education and Secondary Education students who typically go on to get a job in teaching after graduation. Grace Siwinski ‘22, currently works in a 4th and 5th grade emotional support classroom as a teacher at Perry Elementary School in Erie.

Siwinski said that there are noticeable differences in the way that students are now acting after the pandemic’s impacts on education. “The students I have now have been in school during this pandemic since the 2nd grade and they are now 5th graders,” Siwinski said. “Students tend to be shyer and more reserved when it comes to making new friends and trying new things. They also have difficulty expressing and reacting to their emotions.”

Remote learning not only impacted young students’ emotional development, but it also had negative impacts on mental health. Siwinski said that this is sometimes overlooked due to the young age of students who are not taken seriously.

“I don’t think this part is talked about enough. It does not matter how young a student is, their mental health matters just as much and it is just as real as an adult who is struggling. Little kids had to deal with big kid emotions during this, and we as teachers are seeing the aftermath of that now. We need to be checking in on our students and make sure they know they are supported and loved,” said Siwinski.

When classes were online and over video chats, many students would just log in, turn their cameras off, and then not pay attention to what teachers were saying. Siwinski said that this has been heavily observed in Perry’s classrooms.

“Motivation to learn and testing skills have also been affected as well. It is really hard to teach students the importance of their education and how what they are learning now will help them for the rest of their lives. I also feel as though students do not have the patience or the attention spans to take long tests, such as the PSSA. They seem to rush more than usual through the tests and finish them very early,” said Siwinski.

Early childhood educators are under a great amount of stress now in an attempt to catch their students up on learning, and to ensure that students gain back the academic motivation that was lost during the pandemic. There are high hopes that this will be achieved now that, for the most part, classes around the country are all in person. However, the Nation’s Report Card showed a cause for concern that should not be overlooked.

Parents are encouraged to help their children with studying and homework at home, and to show support for their children as they adjust to ‘normal’ schooling that some kids have not experienced in a few years.