ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - New data is showing just how much learning loss is affecting the youngest students in Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS). In a key literacy assessment, students below the benchmark increased by more than 10%.
Participation in benchmarks is down across the board in ACPS, but the data shows that while older students have been less impacted, elementary school students are increasingly falling behind.
“We don’t do an assessment to find out where the child is right now and just leave it there,” Agnor-Hurt Elementary School Principal Doug Granger explained. “We’re really, even with our kindergartners, looking at 12th grade.”
Granger has seen first-hand the struggles students are going through with virtual learning, and heard from teachers, parents and students themselves about the challenges that being away from the classroom setting is presenting. That’s why the data doesn’t surprise him.
”I wasn’t surprised that the scores were lower,” Granger said. “What actually surprised me though that there was quite a bit of growth, and consistent growth, in our scores.”
Elementary school students across Virginia take the PALS (Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening) from Kindergarten to second grade. This year, not only is participation down by more than 400 students compared to 2019, the grades are too.
The percentage of students below benchmark is up in every grade level but Kindergarten, and students are doing worse than they did the year before. Just 18.9% of kindergartners were below benchmark in 2019.
Now, 30.3% of those same students are below the curve. The same result can be found in last year’s first graders, where just 26.7% were below benchmark in 2019, now its 36.2%.
“There’s a gap, it’s not good, but I was encouraged that everything we’re doing seems to be getting some learning to happen, and and you know I think we’ll be able to recover,” Granger explained.
In a similar test given to middle schoolers in the county, the results are a mixed bag: in the same time span the number of students above the 50th percentile decreased slightly for sixth graders, but increased for seventh and eighth graders.
The same trend can be seen in county high schools – where there are more students earning A’s so far this year,but less earning B’s and C’s, and more earning D’s and F’s.
“I think what that tells us is that students who are good strong students continue to do well on the virtual environment. Students who have struggled in person are also struggling virtually,” ACPS Spokesperson Phil Giaramita said.
While the problem is being tackled at the state level with a new workgroup, Albemarle County is developing its own guidelines for fighting learning loss.
“It’s not just going to be a school effort, it’s going to be a community effort and I think that COVID brought out the best in everybody,” Granger said. “I think we’re in this together. If we take the long view, we’re not going to close this in six months. We’re gonna take two or three years.”
ACPS’ recommendations are going to be presented to the school board on April 22 - addressing the rest of this year, the summer, and beyond.