Report: Just 30% Of Metro Atlanta’s Underserved Students Are Likely On Grade Level

Education nonprofit Learn 4 Life released its fourth annual “State of Education in Metro Atlanta” report this week. The study examines the effect of COVID-19 on student learning and also identifies some innovative ways schools are trying to keep students engaged during the pandemic.

Over the summer, Learn 4 Life issued an analysis that determined where students would be if they’d taken the Georgia Milestones in the spring. (The U.S. Education Department issued waivers for states last school year, which exempted them from the federal requirement of standardized testing.)

“What we found was that … almost three months of lost instruction was devastating for a number of kids that were close to proficiency line,” said Learn 4 Life Executive Director Ken Zeff. “More than 20,000 kids who were on track to be proficient because of the COVID slide … lost ground.”

The study found students close to that proficiency line would’ve dropped 3.6 points in English/Language Arts and 4.9 points in math. It further projected just 3 out of 10 underserved students (like Black, Latinx and economically disadvantaged kids) would be on track to grade-level proficiency, reversing gains made leading up to 2020.

While some metro Atlanta districts have resumed in-person classes in some form, students in districts like Atlanta Public Schools, the DeKalb County School District and Clayton County Public Schools have been learning remotely since March.

“This has been one of the most disruptive events, not just a short weather storm or ice storm that lasts a day or two,” said Clayton County Superintendent Morcease Beasley. “We’re looking at months, potentially up to a year, in which our students have been, if you will, jolted out of their norm.”

Beasley credits teachers with finding innovative ways to keep students engaged in online learning. Still, he says, it’s not the same as learning in person.

“Our community and our students, they are very clear, as soon as we can get back face to face, we would prefer that … better than this virtual-learning situation,” he said.

DeKalb Schools Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris agreed that in-person learning is preferable to remote instruction. However, she said, there have been some silver linings.

Students are learning to use technology effectively, she said. Watson-Harris also suggested that since students have had so much experience completing assignments remotely, schools may rethink how they handle sick days in the future.

“There’ll be no excuses,” Watson-Harris said. “You may be able to … do a [virtual] experience when you’re feeling better. So I think that [remote learning] really has given us the tools to be more efficient, more innovative and more inclusive of all learners.”