TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The push for summer school is in high gear and this year more than ever because the pandemic set back learning in core subjects, especially math.
There's no question it's been harder to learn through these tiny boxes for many students. That's been the consensus among many educators.
So it's no surprise the disruption in schools for more than a year has led to large gaps in learning -- especially in reading, writing and math.
"There are academic losses and they are severe,” said TUSD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Flori Huitt, “We see in all of our benchmark data that mathematics was an area that we were hit quite big with losses.”
In Vail, Superintendent John Carruth gives us his stats. He said, ” I think in the lower grades for reading , you're probably looking around 30 percent of where we want to be. Math is another, so probably double or triple what we're normally working with.”
And in Sunnyside, Superintendent Steve Holmes said, “We are seeing a higher failure rate in math this year at our high school level.”
So why is this the case? Why are students struggling more in math?
The experts explain unlike reading, kids learn math mostly in the classroom, not at home.
That’s where "deep learning" takes place — it’s how kids learn best, which is often project base and done in groups.
And that's been hard to do virtually.
Deep understanding of math is important. Core concepts need to be mastered before moving on to the next grade, especially by 3rd, 6th and 9th grades.
“As an example,’ Curruth explained, “the ability to understand and use fractions fluently by the time you leave elementary school in mathematics is a foundational, critical skill you must have that sets the stage for some much other learning in math. If you have a gap in that, you're stuck.”
That can create math anxiety and we discovered how many kids have it.
A January study by EdWeek Research Center found 67 percent of teachers reported students' math anxiety being a challenge, which has been magnified by the pandemic with kids worrying about sickness, money troubles, and parent tensions.
8th grade math teacher Justin Powell said, “It think it's about that mindset. We have a society-wide negative mindset of Math. And that plays into a lot of students perception of the type of learner they are and I know that's not pandemic specific, but that's going to play into how we get out of this.”
District leaders say they have a plan to get out of this.
They’re pushing hard to struggling students into summer school. — a traditional course of action in a normal year.
Question is — is that all it will take? Is summer school enough?
Cavazos: "So how much progress do you think can be realistically made during the summertime to get them better prepared for the start of next school year?"
TUSD Flori Huitt: "Oh, that's a really great question. I don't' think we can tell how much progress can be made. Not yet. We have to once we start the fall with our school and with our more normal conditions, then we can assess our students, diagnose where they're at, and then be able to tackle it from there."
“We're not going to capture all of our students this summer. That's the reality,” said Supt. Holmes.
That’s just the start.
The districts are working on similar comprehensive remediation plans that will at least take them through the next school year.
Sunnyside District's Math director explained why it'll be a work in progress.
“It looks pretty on paper, said Maggie Hackett, Everything looks pretty on paper, but of course, the reality makes it varied. We really tried in mathematics to make a 3-pronged approach if you will.”
First — summer school.
“That’s going to be huge to give kids a jump before the school year starts, “ said TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo.
Second -- targeted tutoring.
“Before and after school targeted tutoring,” said Carruth, “At the high school level, some of the things we’re looking at is credit recovery during the school day for students who may need to make up coursework.”
Trujillo said, “Weekend boot camps where you start getting into intersession math or literacy learning gaps during fall or spring break.”
And third — remediation instruction in math classes
Trujllo explained why it’s the holy grail.
“When you can embed the remediation effort or the enrichment effort during the school day in the classroom. The is one of the most powerful instruction strategies that we can offer,” he said.
To do that, districts need to hire more math interventionists, who will work with students one-on-one or in small groups. “And explicitly reteach concepts that students are not understanding or bring them up to speed in lost content. That’s the holy grail if you can get there with academic intervention.”
But that won’t be easy, because now they’re in high demand.
Trujillo said, “And it’s going to be chased by every other district, not just here in Pima County, but also in the state.”With all these challenges facing districts, they say the climb out of the learning gap could take more time.
“Some of those won't recover in a year,” said Holmes,” maybe take another year.”
Powell said, “If they’re willing I think they can do it in a year. I think if they’re kind of like, ‘Uh, I’m kinda feeling this, I’m not feeling this’ maybe it’s going to be a year, maybe two years. But it’s really all about that mindset.”
Holmes adds, “I really do feel like that in-person learning coming back it’s going to be a strategy in and of itself. Doing nothing else but bringing students in-person and having that relationship really being built around the work, I think it’s going to pay off more than we’re thinking right now.”
So how can parents help?
District stress sending students who are struggling with math to summer school.
Meantime, parents should maintain contact with teachers to understand what math skills students are struggling with.
They stress encouraging students to use the math development apps and software provided by the schools.