Pandemic learning loss slowly rebounding but children still struggle

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — One of the biggest concerns coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic was the impact on our children’s education. Last year, we found that Tampa Bay area students were struggling with learning loss, and this year, we’re finding the rebound is slow.

The Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County (JWB) is particularly concerned about grade-level reading loss during the pandemic. That’s why the organization spent a few weeks in July driving around the Pinellas County Schools Book Bus giving out about 10,000 free books to children in the community.

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“As part of our Grade Level Reading campaign for Pinellas County, Early Readers, Future Leaders, we put together a number of things to get out in the summer about the importance of reading. And we do things year-round to try to help our kids all strive to read at grade level by third grade,” explained Danielle Hintz with JWB.

Florida Standard Assessments (FSA) latest results from 2022 show those reading at grade level or above by third grade across the state has dropped 5% since 2019. It’s now at 53%.

Breaking that down in the Tampa Bay area shows learning loss in every third-grade English Language Arts (ELA) in each county:

  • Pasco County 2019: 60%, 2022: 53%
  • Pinellas County 2019: 56%, 2022: 52%
  • Polk County 2019: 52%, 2022: 48%
  • Hillsborough County 2019: 52%, 2022: 49%
  • Hernando County 2019: 57%, 2022: 54%

Learning loss is not just affecting reading. Last summer when we pulled grades, we found that math was a particular problem.

We asked for fourth quarter grades again for this last school year, and while many districts are still working to provide data, Hillsborough Public School’s numbers show the bigger picture with a slight rebound from last year, but many students still struggling.

  • Looking at high school students, failing grades in math are still up 4% from pre-pandemic numbers
  • 10th grade, said to be one of the most important years for a college transcript, shows the biggest slide in math with 6% more F’’s than before the pandemic
  • Grades 8-11 each saw a 3% increase of F’s in ELA from pre-pandemic

Middle school students in Pinellas County Schools (PCS) are still receiving slightly more F’s in math and ELA than pre-pandemic, but the rebound from pandemic years is significant.

This is especially true for PCS high school math. Last year, 30% of high school students received F’s, this year, it’s down to 20% — very similar to 2019.

Hillsborough County Public School’s Superintendent Addison Davis addressed the learning loss in a press conference Monday regarding more than two dozen schools receiving higher grade assessments overall from the state’s FSA testing.

Are we out of the weeds related to what the pandemic has impacted us academically? The answer to that is absolutely not. If you look at it, we still have a ways to go to catch up where we were prior to the pandemic,” Davis said.

He added that active solutions include:

  • Systematic phonics 
  • New ELA and math initiatives rolling out next year
  • Tier curriculum to address student needs

The kids that struggle the most are, again, the kids that are going to continue to have that challenge and that’s why it’s so important to have summer programming,” Hintz advised.

Thursday is the last day of book bus stops with JWB. They are running two buses and any child or teen in the community is welcome to show up and pick out two books.

The stop are about an hour or less each and include:

  • B&GC Pinellas Park 9 a.m.
  • Forbes Recreation Center in Pinellas Park 10 a.m.
  • Magnolia Day school in St. Petersburg 10 a.m.
  • YMCA Suncoast in Palm Harbor 11:45 a.m.
  • Tarpon Springs in Public Library 12:30 p.m.
  • YMCA in Palm Harbor 12:45 p.m.
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Outside of the Book Bus, ReadStrong Pinellas is a free resource for books in Pinellas County.

In addition, children in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties can access free books online at Renaissance myON.

Local libraries everywhere are also hosting summer reading programs.

Scholastic offers free online reading and activities until Sept. 3.

To find more online resources for free books and reading activities for children anywhere, click here.

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