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KOLD INVESTIGATES: Arizona students may have fallen months behind during pandemic

How much did this year really cost our kids?
Published: May. 24, 2021 at 9:13 PM MST|Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 12:57 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - What has the pandemic cost our children?

It’s a question almost too daunting to ask and too scary to answer.

One of the latest studies estimates the average student will fall three months behind in math and six weeks in reading.

More drastic projections show a year of loss, and that virtual learning could cost current students a year’s earnings as adults.

“So much learning happens with their friends,” said Marana mom Marie Wine. “At school, hands-on every day, project based, out of the house.”

Wine is a former teacher who said she felt guilty for not knowing all the answers.

“I was just like everyone else, I felt like a horrible mother because I didn’t come home and get them caught up,” Wine said. “I could have done more. I always could have done more. At the end of the day, I got home, said ‘hey guys, how did it go? Good! Let’s get out of here - let’s go out let’s go play, let’s get out.’”

Wine believes teachers did their best too, but this is uncharted territory.

“The holes. The gaps, and knowing that I know where they should be and I know that they aren’t - by nobody’s fault,” Wine said.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ordered a study on how far behind students have fallen during the pandemic. It’s a project the State Department of Education will finish up in November 2021.

KOLD News 13 wanted to know who measures this kind of thing?

For one, we found Expect More Arizona.” The bipartisan organization is known for its “Progress Meter” that tracks key education metrics.

The problem is, we missed a year of standardized testing and the most revealing data won’t be in until August.

KOLD asked Rich Nickel of College Success Arizona/Expect More Arizona how much he thinks students have lost.

“This is going to be a setback, not something where we lose an entire year, because there have been gains made... is what teachers will tell you and some have even excelled in an online environment,” Nickel said. “But the gains probably just haven’t been what we’re used to.”

His organization has been interviewing parents, teachers and students throughout the pandemic.

He said it’s not so much if it will affect kids - but which ones it will affect the most.

“We’ve now seen these gaps laid bare and expanded because what we’d expect to happen has happened,” Nickel said.

He told us that means, the gap in accessibility has widened, especially when it comes to college.

“Those from low-income backgrounds, communities of color, rural backgrounds, their enrollment decline was as much as 33 percent in our community college systems,” Nickel said.

We did find some new data for last year’s graduation rates.

According to America’s Health Rankings, almost one percent more Arizona kids graduated from high schools in 2020. At 77.8 percent, we’re still well below the national average, but improving at all in a pandemic year is progress.

And Nickel points out another glimmer of hope: Innovation. Arizona has an influx of around a billion federal dollars to use to do better for our students: their Minds, their health, and their future.

Every person we interviewed for this story repeated one hopeful phrase: kids are resilient. But, Marie Wine and millions of other parents worry that the impact will reach far beyond grades.

”They will never get that year back. Academically, yes. Mentally... no. And they’ll remember this,” Wine said.

The Arizona Department of Education has set aside millions to pay for tutoring and summer school.

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