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Effects of Distance Learning Show Up on Iowa Report Cards

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Wednesday, December 9, 2020   

WATERLOO, Iowa -- Public schools across the country say they're seeing more failing grades as many students continue with distance learning. In Iowa, there's also early evidence of the "COVID slide."

Some U.S. school districts report double-digit increases in the percentage of students with failing grades. According to the Iowa Board of Education, early literacy testing results for kindergarten through third grade show learning loss at all levels, compared with last fall.

Margaret Buckton, executive director of the Urban Education Network of Iowa, said teachers still are working through a variety of issues in helping students, including logistical barriers.

"There's even a lot of work in getting parents and children to understand how to even turn on the computer, get into the right platform, be able to click the right class at the right time," she said.

Buckton said more professional training is needed to eliminate these obstacles. She added that distance-learning woes are more prominent in urban districts because they have more families opting for remote classes. To limit performance declines, the group wants state lawmakers to boost funding for additional staff and more learning days for targeted students who have fallen behind.

In Waterloo, about 2,000 public-school students opted for full distance learning this fall. Waterloo Community Schools Superintendent Jane Lindaman said they've had issues with some not logging in, prompting the district to convince families to change their plans.

"We had a list of students who weren't participating as of that point in time," she said, "and we called parents and said, 'You know, we really need 'em back. We need them back in person, because they're getting further behind.'"

Lindaman said they want to avoid having students repeat a grade, but it might be necessary in some cases.

"We need students to be learning the content that they need to learn at that grade level," she said. "Otherwise, it starts a snowball -- where if they don't learn this year, then next year it's harder to connect because they have holes in their learning."

The state has said that while it appears the learning loss is affecting all demographics, low-income students are seeing the biggest declines.


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