Georgia teachers weigh in on pandemic’s toll on students

08/25/2020 - Cumming, Georgia - Members of the Otwell Middle School band practice in the cafeteria at Otwell Middle School in Cumming, Tuesday, August 25, 2020. A new audit tries to calculate the toll of COVID-19 on learning. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
caption arrowCaption
08/25/2020 - Cumming, Georgia - Members of the Otwell Middle School band practice in the cafeteria at Otwell Middle School in Cumming, Tuesday, August 25, 2020. A new audit tries to calculate the toll of COVID-19 on learning. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Nearly half of teachers surveyed in Georgia predicted that COVID-19 would prevent them from teaching their students everything they were expected to know last school year, a new state report says.

The performance report released Friday by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts confirms what many already knew or suspected about learning loss in public schools due to the pandemic.

It also reveals new insights, such as the fact that 42% of teachers surveyed doubted they would be able to teach all of the state’s learning standards last school year. Another 12% were unsure whether they could.

“I feel like all I did was ‘cover’ the curriculum. My students were not taught to master content,” one teacher said in the survey. “We moved entirely too fast for the current pandemic.”

ExploreStudy: Atlanta-area students attended less school online than in classrooms, and did worse

The audit notes that students who fell behind will pay a price in the long term if they cannot catch up.

“For example, kindergarteners and first graders who failed to master early literacy skills in 20-21 are less likely to be reading proficiently in third grade, which will impact their ability to comprehend more advanced curriculum in later years,” the document says.

Auditors also found more immediate consequences. The percentage of students who passed English Language Arts courses fell by 3.7 percentage points on average across high, middle and elementary school, with students in middle school falling the most, at 6 to 7 percentage points.

In math, the pass rate fell an average of 3.2 percentage points, with middle school students again suffering the most, falling as much as 7 percentage points.

The report says Georgia will have difficulty gauging the damage because the annual Milestones tests were disrupted by the pandemic and because there is no statewide “formative” test. (The Milestones are high-stakes “summative” tests, with consequences for students, teachers and administrators. They had to be taken in person. Formative tests are more like low-stakes quizzes that merely track progress and could be taken at home.)

ExploreGSU study: Many students learned less during pandemic, but impact varies

The auditors fault the Georgia Department of Education for this, saying a statewide formative test is among the “best practices” for identifying and monitoring learning gaps.

“Unlike other states, GaDOE has not provided any mandates to school systems regarding whether or how to use formative assessments,” the auditors wrote. Instead, each of the state’s 180 school districts is free to skip formatives or to use one of the many available on the market, such as Map, Star, DIBELS and i-Ready.

This inconsistent patchwork makes the academic toll of the pandemic difficult to measure.

A portion of the education department’s response, noted in the audit, is that it offers free formative assessments for grades one through eight — Keenville in first and second grades and BEACON in third through eighth grades. Those are voluntary, however, and as of last November 122 school districts, just over two-thirds of the total, were using them.

ExploreMore stories about Georgia schools

The education agency provided The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with its full unedited response. It adds that the formative testing model recommended in the audit is more like the kind of high-stakes model that State Schools Superintendent Richard Woods, Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia General Assembly have worked to minimize.

“The model suggested in the audit report — of required interim assessments, reported out for statewide data collection — would be a massive expansion of high-stakes testing and a reduction in instructional time when it is needed most,” the agency wrote.

About the Author

Editors' Picks