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'Once the pandemic hit, I think it messed me up' | Test results show distance learning's impact on student achievement

Nationwide, students' reading and math scores are among the lowest they've been in 20 years, and experts blame distance learning.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A new report shows what many feared but also expected: distance learning hurt students' academic progress.

The results are the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card. It tests the reading and math skills of the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders.

2022 was the first time the test was given since the pandemic began, and the results are the worst they've been in about 20 years.

Tutoring, however, is making a difference in these students' grades—and their lives.

Saxton Rogers is a 10th grader at Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove. He says distance learning was hard for him.

“I'm a procrastinator, so when I get a lot of work, I end up when not wanting to do it,” he said. “Before distance learning, I was doing good in school and, like, I really wasn't struggling in anything except for, like, one class. And then once the pandemic hit, I think it messed me up. I got really lazy and I was starting to turn in assignments late and stuff, and it was affecting my grades.”

He turned to the non-profit Impact Sac, which works to empower young people.

“Youth have been struggling, especially after COVID and distance learning, so we really believe that, you know, connecting people to education and knowledge is really important for them to succeed,” said Impact Sac’s Program Director Veronica Boulus.

For nearly two years now, Impact Sac has provided free tutoring to dozens of students through a contracted tutor named Jacob Juico, who is paid with grant money.

Juico made a big difference in Rogers’ academic progress.

“Over the summer, I was able to help him pass a class that he had failed the previous year,” said Juico. “I helped him go from a low D all the way up to an A in both of his classes in the summer, just through working with him…He’s made excellent progress.”

“He just helps me, like, strive for greatness,” Rogers said of Juico. “I feel like he wants the best for me.”

“Having a tutor is something that might not be financially available for some of these families,” Juico said, “and so having the option to give tutoring free of charge from Impact Sac, I think it is a wonderful idea.”

Students need help right now. As the Nation’s Report Card showed, students across the country – including in California – lost progress in reading and especially in math.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called the test results “appalling and unacceptable…a reminder of the impact this pandemic had on our learners, and the important work we must do now for our students.”

But the impact wasn’t felt equally. A study by Stanford and Harvard found—students in high-poverty schools lost more academic progress than students in low-poverty schools.

“Some of the youth that we work with don't have as many resources as other people do,” Boulus said. “So– to us– it is really important to really fill that educational gap and that achievement gap and really try to help youth learn in a way that they understand.”

Janeth Ortega is an eighth grader at Foothill Ranch Middle School in the Twin Rivers Unified School District, where 95% of students last year qualified for free- or reduced-price lunch. She says distance learning actually helped her focus, but her grades were struggling and she knew she needed help, which is when she connected with Impact Sac and Juico.

“Last year, when I was actually doing really bad in school, I had a lot of missing assignments,” Ortega said.

Since beginning tutoring with Juico about half-a-year ago, she said, “I’ve been actually getting on track to having A's and B's. And so students shouldn't be scared to ask for help, because everyone - at some point - needs the help of someone.”

As for Rogers, he credits Juico for turning failing grades into good grades.

“Last year around this time, I had, like, two F's,” he said. “Now, like, this whole school year so far, I've haven’t had any bad grades. My grades are good…Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.”


California Department of Education: Less than 50% of students prepped in reading, math

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