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It could take years for kids to recover from pandemic learning gap, research shows

Pandemic created severe learning gap among children
Pandemic created severe learning gap among children 01:50

This summer, 12-year-old Tahlynn Carlisle has been seeing a tutor three days a week. Carlisle said she felt like she was behind other students because her "grades were really bad." 

Like students across the country, Carlisle struggled with all-remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Talena Lachelle Queen, a 10th grade English teacher at Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, said there was a "significant" learning loss when her students returned to in-person classes. 

"They were not ready and didn't really understand simple things," Queen said. 

Nationwide, students are slowly starting to gain ground since pandemic lockdowns. Research from the nonprofit education group NWEA found that 8% of eighth grade students suffered lost learning because of the pandemic, and it could take more than five years for them to completely catch up. Lost learning, also known as an "achievement gap," is unfinished learning due to the pandemic. 

While students are behind across the board, the widest gap was seen in Black, Latino and low-income communities, the research found. Math scores for Black fourth graders declined 11%, while they dipped 4% for White fourth graders. 

"Our children were intended for face-to-face instruction," said Paula White, executive director of the education advocacy group Jersey Can. "This is what is best for them, and so they have lost so much." 

To make up the years of lost learning, White said "high-dosage tutoring" can help with some of the losses in literacy and mathematics. 

Tutoring, along with summer and after-school programs — and extended classroom time for math and reading — are helping, but students heading back to school still face a long road to academic recovery. 

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