DeKalb schools: Learning loss from online classes lower than expected

DeKalb County School District Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris delivers her state of the district address on Feb. 23, 2020. (Screen shot)
DeKalb County School District Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris delivers her state of the district address on Feb. 23, 2020. (Screen shot)

Student achievement in DeKalb County Public Schools dipped after classes switched to virtual-only learning due to the pandemic, according to the superintendent.

But the decline wasn’t as steep as feared, she said.

Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris recently said the district’s 93,000 students experienced an average one to three months of reductions in achievement growth, or learning loss after classes switched to online-only learning.

“It appears that the learning losses … were considerable,” Watson-Harris said at a district event. But, she added, they were not as large as initially expected.

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DeKalb classes have been virtual-only for nearly a year. But next week, some students will begin returning to school buildings for in-person learning.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained learning loss estimates for grades four through eight. It shows eighth graders fell behind by slightly over three months in math and reading. Grades fifth through sixth also experienced at least a month’s worth of learning loss in math, reading, science and language usage.

Watson-Harris called the math learning losses in grades four through nine “relatively modest,” and she said there was some positive learning growth among 10th graders.

A district spokeswoman told The AJC that the district assessed student learning loss using “multiple years” of data from the MAP test — a national exam that measures students’ progress — in mathematics, reading, science and language usage.

The spokeswoman said the learning loss was calculated by looking at fall 2020 test scores minus projected fall 2020 test scores. The projected test score was based on characteristics and two prior scores plus pre-pandemic trends. There was a comparison of current students to prior students with similar test score histories and demographics, she said.

In February, DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said the county's students lost an average one to three months of learning during the virtual-only school year. (Courtesy of DeKalb County School District)
In February, DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said the county's students lost an average one to three months of learning during the virtual-only school year. (Courtesy of DeKalb County School District)

Credit: Courtesy of DeKalb County School District

Credit: Courtesy of DeKalb County School District

School officials hope the return to in-person learning will help students. On Tuesday, students in prekindergarten through second grade, as well as sixth and ninth grades, can return to in-person learning in school buildings. Students in the remaining grades can return March 15.

Families can keep their children in online-only learning.

Watson-Harris said the district is extending the support time allotted to students on Wednesdays for tutoring and intervention. The district is also planning to offer summer learning programs that will be discussed in more detail during the March 15 school board meeting, she said.

In February, DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said the county's students lost an average one to three months of learning during the virtual-only school year. (Courtesy of DeKalb County School District)
In February, DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said the county's students lost an average one to three months of learning during the virtual-only school year. (Courtesy of DeKalb County School District)

Credit: Courtesy of DeKalb County School District

Credit: Courtesy of DeKalb County School District

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