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Top education officials concerned about loss of learning Idaho students are facing

Schools across the state are closed to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is forcing students to learn remotely instead of in a classroom.

BOISE, Idaho — The toll Idaho students are facing right now with schools being closed across the state cannot be calculated at this time.

Schools across Idaho are on a “soft closure" until the end of the school year. However, the Idaho State Board of Education did approve criteria that would allow schools to reopen before summer.

Top education officials in the state agree there is an impact on the loss of learning to Idaho students.

One thing is clear to Idaho Education Association President Layne McInelly, though. That’s the fact that teachers across Idaho are doing what they can to make sure students continue learning as much as they can.

“Idaho educators are working tirelessly to create emergency learning opportunities for their students to stay engaged,” he said. “They’re coming up with innovative lessons to make sure the students are receiving some kind of education.”

This includes doing everything from Google hangouts, Zoom meetings with students and parents, delivering packets to students without internet access, and making phone calls to students and parents.

“Right now, with these Zoom calls and Google hangouts, it’s almost impossible to make sure all of our students are able to have that same quality of education,” McInelly said.

He gave an example about how learning remotely isn’t as hands on as learning inside a classroom.

“When I taught sixth grade chemistry, we did all sorts of chemistry lessons inside the classroom, I don’t know if my students have access to the different chemicals to be able to mix them so they can see me doing it on a Zoom call but they don’t have that hands-on learning,” he said. “When you don’t have that hands-on learning, a lot of times the students don’t have the retention because we know when you’re engaged, you retain.”

Another unknown during this pandemic is which subject might be most affected. It’s not clear if students will fall behind most in reading and writing, or math.

McInelly told KTVB math could suffer since that needs a foundation. This could make it difficult to catch up on.

“I always think of it as a staircase and you can’t skip a couple stairs and expect the students to be able to get up to the top,” he said.

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra told KTVB that it really depends on the student and their background for what subject might be affected the most.

“If they already had a gap in reading this coronavirus epidemic could certainly widen that gap,” she said. “It just depends on what services are offered and what their background is, so we’ll be watching that conversation very closely.”

A study from the nonprofit group, Northwest Evaluation Association, states math will be the hardest hit subjects for elementary and middle school students.

The state is offering several resources online to assist families with learning from home. While they are doing that, Ybarra still expects there to be a loss of learning in students across Idaho, particularly for more vulnerable populations.

“Districts are working individually to assess those gaps and whether to take steps such as a summer catch-up program or starting the fall session early,” she said.

At this time, there is no formal state plan to start the school year early or mandate districts to offer summer catch-up programs.

As far as how long this will impact Idaho students, it’s tough to say.

McInelly doesn’t think it will have long-term impacts on students, meanwhile Ybarra says it's too early to know.

“I think it’s too early to speculate on how long or how much of an impact it will have, we just know at this point it will have an impact,” she said.

However, the superintendent is willing to look for a positive out of this entire remote learning situation.

“If there’s any positive that comes out of this negative, I think it’s the opportunity to look at forward thinking ideas to reach the need of our kids,” she said.

The state is putting together a working group of Teacher of the Year award winners. Right now, the number of teachers who will be a part of the group isn’t solidified.

The group will also include a representative from the Idaho Digital Learning Alliance and State Department of Education representatives from content and curriculum. The deputy superintendent of operations will also be a part of the group.

Ybarra told KTVB this group of teachers on the frontlines will come up with solutions to provide rigor for students during this distant learning and strategies to make up for the loss of learning. The working group could meet as soon as next week.

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