Amid Pandemic Learning Loss, There’s an Urgent Need to Bring Parents and Teachers Together

A student at Robert M. Pyles Academy in Stanton, Calif., on Jan. 13, 2022. During the pandemic, students—especially fourth and eighth graders, and Black and Brown students—recorded sweeping declines, particularly in math. (Paul Bersebach / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register via Getty Images)

As a mom and a former teacher, I understand why parents and educators don’t want to hear about COVID-19 related learning loss. But it’s time we have an honest conversation—without blame or shame. There’s a massive and unethical disconnect that leaves parents in the dark and teachers without the support they need to stay in the game. Our kids can no longer wait—the full team has to play in sync based on a shared and honest understanding of student progress.

Learning Heroes national 2022 survey data shows that more than nine in 10 parents (92 percent) believe their children are at or above grade level. But a growing body of national and state data tell a very different story—a story that cuts across all student populations but has disproportionately affected students of color and low-performing students.

Existing inequities were dramatically revealed throughout the pandemic. Now as we try to rebound, long-standing achievement gaps have gotten even wider and more urgent.

The average ACT score for the high school class of 2022 declined to the lowest level in more than 30 years.

The 2022 Nation’s Report Card recently revealed unprecedented declines in math and significant dips in reading:

  • Only 26 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.
  • It’s even lower for Black and Brown students: Just 9 percent of Black students, and 14 percent of Hispanic students, are proficient in math.
  • The average math score for male fourth-graders was 6 points higher than their female peers—compared to 3 points in 2019.

NWEA, the interim assessment provider, found that student progress during the 2021-22 school year started to rebound. But, lower-scoring students are making gains at a slower rate than higher-scoring students. Similar to how the pandemic has widened preexisting disparities by race, ethnicity and school-poverty level, their report found that the distance between students at the extremes of the achievement distribution has widened over the last two years.

The Education Recovery Scorecard, which analyzes state tests in the wake of the pandemic, found “the average U.S. public school student in grades 3-8 lost the equivalent of a half year of learning in math, and a quarter of a year in reading.”

We can’t afford to wait for yet another reminder of how far our kids are behind.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this startling disconnect: 84 percent of parents say their children get all A’s and B’s and consistently rank report card grades as the top measure to know if their child is on grade level. Yet only 30 percent of teachers rate report cards as one of the important ways to gauge student achievement and acknowledge that grades often equate effort more than mastery.

Why aren’t more honest conversations happening between parents and educators? Our research shows us that many teachers fear they’ll be blamed or won’t be believed. Most teachers lack training on family engagement and they don’t get the time they need to prioritize it. It’s no wonder then that the vast majority find it hard to communicate difficult information to parents and say more support is needed to work through biases they may have when communicating with parents.

When I was a second-grade teacher in a charter school in the South Bronx, building a relationship with our families was an expectation. It was doing home visits that helped me build trust with parents and helped me be a better teacher. It was a chance to listen and better understand my students as learners and human beings. As a first-generation Latina, I saw my own story in my students and their families. I allowed myself to be vulnerable and shared my experiences including those as an English learner who quietly struggled with math.

Why aren’t more honest conversations happening between parents and educators? Many teachers fear they’ll be blamed or won’t be believed.

While there is meaningful home-school partnership happening in some classrooms, schools and districts, it’s not happening in most communities. It is too often limited to well-intended but surface level events.

While I have deep empathy for what teachers experienced during the pandemic, as a parent I’ve been frustrated by the lack of transparency when it comes to district and school communication—so I’m being proactive to build a relationship with my daughters’ teachers and school leaders in a respectful but direct way.

We can’t afford to wait for yet another reminder of how far our kids are behind. At Learning Heroes, the nonprofit organization I work for, we strive to help parents team up with their child’s teacher. Simple actions they can take are to ask the teacher “Is my child at grade level in reading and math?” and “How can we work together to help my child make progress?” If you don’t get a concrete answer, keep asking.

But parents can’t be expected to build these trusting relationships alone. School leaders need to make it an expectation and provide teachers with the training, time and support they say they need to build trust and have honest and actionable conversations with parents about student progress. It’s important that schools make sure parents know how to access the resources districts have made available and why they matter—tutoring, online tools, extra academic support and more.

At the state and district level, education leaders and policymakers need to focus their unprecedented federal funds on creating more effective and equitable systems that set up families and educators as allies in support of student learning and well-being.

What gives me hope? To move forward, parents and educators overwhelmingly agree (89 percent) it is essential to work together on a path to recovery, and agree that providing parents with a clear picture of their children’s achievement is a top priority. It’s up to all of us to make that happen.

Up next:

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A former elementary school teacher, Windy Lopez-Aflitto has 20 years of experience in family engagement, education and philanthropy. She came to Learning Heroes from the American Express Foundation and was previously with Scholastic.