Most faculty say Covid disruption hit concentration harder than learning
July 3, 2023
For most of the world – including Shalhevet – constant reminders of Covid disappeared months ago. Shalhevet has been free of masks, social distancing, plexiglass desk shields, outdoor classes, hand sanitizer and Zoom meetings since this past fall, if not earlier.
But both national research and some Shalhevet faculty say the pandemic’s elects may linger far into the future – specifically in the realm of education – even now that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared that the national emergency for Covid ended as of May 11, and the U.S. is no longer in need of the strict regulations put in place to prevent Covid infection.
English teacher Mr. Brian Forrester and others said that though students’ academic performance had stayed the same, their ability to concentrate had suffered.
This inability to cooperate in learning has limited them in what to do academically because we had to go a little slower to teach them those skills.
— Dr. Elizabeth Basheer, Science
“I’m finding that students’ attention spans have shortened significantly after school on Zoom,” said Mr. Forrester in an interview earlier this year. “They have lost focus in their learning during class and even in their work after school.”
“Many students have regressed due to Zoom in school,” he said. “they’re unable to put their devices down. I have also found that there has been a residual effect from the mask. Students feel that they have to be louder, in volume and significance.”
Science teacher Dr. Elizabeth Basheer said trouble concentrating meant slower learning.
“Because they weren’t interacting with each other or in a classroom and learning how to sit down and listen to a lecture or sit in a group, they didn’t know how to after,” said Dr. Basheer. “It wasn’t so much academic, like their intelligence, but they didn’t have social, emotional capabilities that were present in students before Covid…. This inability to cooperate in learning has limited them in what to do academically because we had to go a little slower to teach them those skills.”
Judaic Studies Principal Rabbi David Stein said the changes he’d noticed were more pronounced among certain grade levels.
“I have no scientific evidence to back this up – it is entirely anecdotal – but just from what I see at Shalhevet I think that Covid affected different people based on their developmental levels,” said Rabbi Stein.
“If you missed middle school, or early years of high school, because of Covid, there is a lot of really important social, emotional, and academic progress that happens in those grades, and it’s hard to make that up.”
Math teacher Ms. Jennifer Kong feels that Covid has barely made a difference in students’ knowledge or behavior.
“I don’t see any difference in my students ability or performance in math due to Covid,” said Ms. Kong “I really don’t see a difference. My freshman class is one of the best classes I have ever taught.”
Mr. Forrester said there were aspects of Covid that were beneficial to students.
For some, Zoom school helped them come out of their shell,” Mr. Forrester said.
But especially on a national level, statistics tell a different story. A newly released Nation’s Report Card, published by the U.S. Department of Education, said that “students [are] posting the largest score declines ever recorded in math, [in] the most comprehensive evaluation to date of the impact of the pandemic on academic achievement.”
I have also found that there has been a residual effect from the mask. Students feel that they have to be louder, in volume and significance.
— Mr. Brian Forrester, English
Compared to 2018, before the pandemic, in 2022 a great percentage of students in America had fallen significantly below expected averages. Because of the timing, the change seems most likely to be due to online learning and other educational disruption during the first two years of Covid-19.
In 2022, the report said, 25% of fourth graders were below the average mathematics level and 38% of eighth graders were below the average level, compared to 2018. Three percent of both fourth and eighth graders had fallen behind on reading comprehension.
In California, the report found, where in 2019 eighth-grade mathematical proficiency had reached its highest level since 1990, in 2022 the proficiency level dropped down from 19% to 15% of students – a drop of almost 25% – and from 10% to 8%, a drop of 20%, of students at an advanced level.
Forty-four percent of the state’s students were found to be below the basic level. Similar results were found for 4th-grade mathematics.
There was no drop In reading, however. California’s 2022 results were nearly identical to 2019 scores for both 8th- and 4th-graders.
Rabbi Stein thinks different grades might have been affected differently.
“I feel this is a known thing across the world – that Covid severely affected learning and development,” Rabbi Stein said. “Across the board Covid had a huge impact on learning for every student in the world.”
However, there’s evidence that the worst may be over, in learning and in health.
Regarding Covid illness, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 159 new cases of Covid on May 13. That compares to 60,048 cases on Jan. 4, 2022, and 19,854 on Jan. 5, 2021. Covid cases were so high during January 2022 due to the arrival of the Omicron variant of the virus.
Deaths have also fallen, with 14 deaths linked to Covid this February, while last February were 103, and in February 2021 there were 930 deaths in LA County.
Now that they have been in person for a year they have built those skills.
— Dr. Basheer, Science
Shalhevet faculty and students see signs that the worst learning consequences may have passed as well. Senior Talia Schapira said this year the transition from summer to the school year was easier.
“Last year it was hard for me to come back after being on Zoom for two years, with tests and lots of homework.” said Talia. “This year, I feel much more confident in my learning and that my experience as a senior will be really great.”
Dr. Basheer said she has seen catch-up in younger students’ skills.
“I definitely see a difference between sophomores and freshmen, and I think it’s because they didn’t have that middle school experience to learn those skills,” Dr. Basheer said. “But now that they have been in person for a year they have built those skills.”
Junior Datya Kurzban was a freshman when only one, two or three classes were on campus at a time, to make social distancing easier.
“This year is also our first year at Shalhevet that is mostly normal,” said Datya. For seniors, the Covid lockdown began in the middle of freshman year, and last year many were still wearing masks.
While Shalhevet may be seeing a turnaround, the Boiling Point could not find any studies that showed education recovering as the Covid emergency has wound down.
Rabbi Stein suggested there would be more data available in the future.
“An event like this is going to be studied by researchers, psychologists, and learning specialists, who are going to be studying for years and generations,” Rabbi Stein said. “And we are going to see what are the most important years of learning, and we will know that much better because of Covid.”