Editorial: Pandemic still setting back Ohio students

A recent editorial by the Youngstown Vindicator:

As we all could have expected, evidence released last week in annual school report cards proves that online learning prompted by the pandemic took a great toll on Ohio students’ progress.

The 2022 Ohio School Report Cards, released Thursday by the Ohio Department of Education, proved that both statewide and locally, students now are performing at or near pre-pandemic levels.

School report cards are meant to serve as a measurement of student performance by school, evaluating students in areas of achievement, early learning, graduation rates, progress and gap closing among student subgroups.

An official at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-reform think tank based in Columbus, last week described the pandemic as a “catastrophe for many Ohio students.” Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director at the institute, said, “Today’s report cards reveal the ongoing consequences of the pandemic, with more students than usual struggling to meet grade level expectations in math and English.”

Locally, school leaders don’t deny the challenges they have faced with online learning.

Most are working to overcome those challenges; still many urban school districts, in particular, lag behind.

… It should be noted that one key assessment of overall successes and failures of students and schools remains absent again from this year’s state report cards. For the third straight year, the state Department of Education declined to release an overall grade for school districts, saying that overall rating will be returned in the 2023 report cards. We disagree that the pandemic should have prevented the release of this rating, particularly this year, since most students last year returned to in-class learning. This state data is invaluable in monitoring student progress, and the reason for withholding it raises questions in and of itself.

Nevertheless, the scores that were released did paint a picture of students struggling to overcome the challenges created by online learning.

Statewide analysis provided by the Fordham Institute showed that proficiency in math dipped more dramatically during the pandemic, and scores remain well below pre-pandemic levels. While proficiency in English language arts was less affected, scores in this subject also haven’t yet fully recovered.

Ohio cannot afford to leave students behind, lacking the basic reading and math skills. State and local education leaders must create a faster pace for recovery, and as Fordham Institute suggests, it should focus on core academics and ensuring that schools are using proven effective practices.

It’s unfortunate that our kids have suffered, but the experiment that involved online and virtual learning for more than a year should serve to teach us all one thing.

While the world is increasingly focused on the convenience and benefits of connecting digitally or virtually with one another, for our kids that doesn’t always work.

As we’ve said previously in this space, education is best administered in person, in a classroom.

— Youngstown Vindicator, Sept. 18, 2022