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Learning loss increasing due to pandemic struggles

Lack of educational resources can lead to larger learning gap during pandemic.

Some students were already behind on learning when the Covid-19 pandemic hit early in 2020. The shut down of businesses and schools and the subsequent switch to remote or online learning in the latter exacerbated the situation.

Dr. John Ricketts, professor of agricultural leadership, education and communications at Tennessee State University, outlined the problem during an online presentation to a Zoom meeting of the Memphis, Tenn., Agricultural Club.

Ricketts noted that some minority students have suffered educationally. In some cases, black and Hispanic students have fallen behind in terms of the amount of education they have received. He said that the gap that occurs doesn't need to widen anymore.

“We just can’t have it, and, if we have poor instruction, including poor online and alternative delivery or no instruction whatsoever, they can fall behind, they can drop out and certainly they're not going to go to college, let alone study agriculture," said Ricketts.  "We had the problem before the pandemic of food insecurity and a lack of diversity in the workforce, and that's not helped.”

While quality online instruction exists, he said, such resources in agriculture have been scarce. “We could find some courses in general education and a few in biology and chemistry, but there was not much there, especially at the level we were seeking, to help in agriculture,” he noted. Then the pandemic hit.

“Dorn et al conducted a study using big data to draw these pieces,” he said, “but they basically found that school closures and whatever these alternative forms of delivery were going to widen the achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students and an overall group called low income, which is all of those put together.”

The study, which was conducted last summer, predicted that if a resurgence of the virus meant most students remained out of the classroom through January of 2021 and experienced average quality remote learning they would progress but at a slower pace than a traditional situation in which students were in class every day.

“Students who receive lower quality remote learning will be stagnated at their grade level and students not receiving any instruction at all will fall backwards or drop out,” he said. “Not many schools say: ‘we’re not going to teach you at all,’ but a lot of students decided they were not going to engage, and the learning loss from low quality remote instruction was most significant.”

Ricketts presented numbers from scenario two provided by Dorn and other researchers. The numbers for that scenario indicated white students would fall behind the least, but they would still lose up to six months of learning due to lower quality remote classes.

Black students, the study said, would experience up to 10.3 months of learning loss, Hispanic students up to 9.2 months and the lower income students as a whole up to 12.4 months.

“I really believe numbers like these are why we received the grant from USDA – the need to develop online courses that would help prepare high school students and freshmen and sophomore students in college for entering fields in agriculture,” he said.

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