By Victoria Rivera
After the viral pathogen dominated the blur that has been the past few years, thousands of young students across America are still struggling to catch up to where they’re supposed to be. Children in their developmental years were pulled out of classes. Some never had the chance to attend to begin with. Crucial periods that should’ve been experienced in a formal learning environment were instead spent surrounded by a stressed, health-conscious family. Because they missed out on the rigid academic stability found in a classroom, many kids have been studying that much harder to make up for lost ground.
A 2021 study by the University of Virginia found students from kindergarten to second grade are below their academic benchmarks. In 2019, 21.3 percent of students were falling behind their expected progress. By 2021, this number had increased to 34.9 percent. The struggles were not found in all backgrounds, however. Through the pandemic, pre-existing disparities had only become clearer: low-income households held an entire 59 percent of students falling below their expected marks, with Black and Hispanic students holding 39 percent of the 59 in question.
But it’s impossible to only blame the COVID quarantine for these issues; much of what has caused the educational gap existed long before the pandemic.
“I think that the opportunities of those with higher SES [socioeconomic status] are greater than those of lower SES,” said professor Josephne Rapalino Simoza. “Those with low SES can’t afford as many or as high quality of books... specifically after/during COVID, if they didn’t have a device, they were restricted by the means their parents could provide. Students of higher SES typically have these devices, books, or can even pay for a tutor. That way they could still achieve the same level literacy they would have outside the classroom.”
The American Psychological Association has tied students from lower income households to slower academic progress and lower literacy rates. Children lacking the means and circumstances to get the schooling they need aren’t given the fostering environment they need to grow. The pandemic only exasperated these issues by further limiting lower income students’ opportunities. However, scholars often point to deficits in what’s actually being taught, primarily phonetics. Less teachers are educated in phonetic education, causing older students to backtrack and relearn these fundamental skills.
“I actually was benefitted by virtual schooling, as my school would close for flooding issues... being able to take classes online on those days meant we missed less school. But we transferred extremely quickly, as in we had in person class Thursday, no class on Friday, and then virtual classes running by that Monday,” said Kendall Hovius, a junior marine science major. “When I visited my high school, though, last spring, I heard from my teachers about students struggling with class, as well as behavior in class.”
According to an analysis performed by World Population Review, Florida is currently among the states with the lowest literacy rates at 80.3 percent. While this percentage is far from being catastrophically low, it still means upwards of a million children are illiterate or gravely falling behind. Although normalcy is returning, more effort is needed to keep this rate from dipping again by acknowledging the factors and setbacks less privileged students face and working to better accommodate them.