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Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Educators worried 'summer slide' in academics could start early

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As Oklahoma students spend the rest of the school year away from the classroom, some educators worry academic losses, typically reserved to summer, will come early.

All public and charter schools in the state will finish the school year with distance learning as school buildings stay closed. The Oklahoma State Board of Education approved the measure on Wednesday to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

Some teachers and administrators are concerned the “summer slide” could start a few months earlier and endure even longer.

The term “summer slide,” known to many educators, indicates a decline in academic achievement over summer break because of extended time spent outside of a learning environment.

“I think, ultimately, my biggest concern is we know what the research looks like on the summer slide,” said Rebecca Kaye, chief of equity and accountability for Oklahoma City Public Schools. “We could be facing a much more extended period of time away from school than we’re accustomed to.”

Teachers and students are unsure when they will return to their classrooms as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads throughout the world. At least for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, children will complete assignments from home.

Paula Pluse, principal of Rockwood Elementary in Oklahoma City, said her teachers are concerned this could affect the progress their students have made this year.

“We were deemed a school that needs to make gains, and we want to make the gains,” Pluse said. “We have come so far this year. We’ve seen tremendous growth in our students, in reading especially, and we want to make sure that continues with our students.”

Rockwood was one of the district’s lowest-performing schools last year, leading administrators to designate it as an “innovative transformation school.” Pluse said the school is working toward a turnaround with a focus on school leadership, teacher performance and more concentrated instruction.

She said she hopes families help their children stay on track, especially with reading.

“We just want kids reading and keeping that reading going,” Pluse said. “If they read, that will extend into all areas of their lives, and so if they come back reading, that is going to make a tremendous difference in what we’ve done.”

Oklahoma districts have recommended students read for at least 20 minutes a day.

Fending off an academic decline could be more difficult for children living in poverty, who might have less internet access or fewer learning opportunities at home.

Research has shown summer slide has a stronger negative effect on poorer students.

A Johns Hopkins study found students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, learn at nearly the same rate during the school year, but the gap between more affluent students and those with lesser means widens when they leave for summer.

The study tracked more than 700 Baltimore public school students from first grade through age 22. Researchers found the students from higher socioeconomic status were more likely to participate in summer learning.

These students experienced academic improvement as a result. Poorer students saw their academic scores drop over the summer, putting them behind their wealthier peers by the first day of school.

Families with greater means can provide summer camps, museum visits and trips to the library, Kaye said. Children whose parents work long hours for lower wages can miss out on that enrichment.

“It’s kind of like they take two steps forward during the school year and then there’s a step back in the summer, through no fault of the families or the students,” Kaye said. “It’s just for lack of access to opportunities.”

Putnam City elementary teacher Amber Ball said it “would be awesome” if it became the norm for students to work on math and reading over the summer.

Ball, who teaches second grade at Central Elementary, said many parents don’t want their children to fall behind while schools are closed for COVID-19, so she thinks they’ll be open to any assignments the school district provides.

School districts are preparing distance learning plans that could include online schoolwork and take-home materials. Oklahoma’s public TV network and PBS affiliate, OETA, announced it would broadcast educational programming from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday for the rest of the school year.

All distance learning plans must be approved by the Oklahoma State Department of Education before remote teaching begins April 6.

Putnam City, for example, sent out a host of online links for lessons, ebooks and instructional videos for all grade levels. The district will provide physical assignments for students to do at home.

“I just know teachers are going to reach out as much as possible to try to help,” Ball said. “And then when we come back in August, we’ll do what we always do: Find where that child is and hit the ground running.”

Related Photos
<strong>Luis Hernandez, at the time an eighth grader at Webster Middle School, waits in 2011 for other students to board the bus. Educators are concerned students whose schools closed early because of the COVID-19 pandemic will go through the "summer slide" for a longer period of time this year. [The Oklahoman Archives]</strong>

Luis Hernandez, at the time an eighth grader at Webster Middle School, waits in 2011 for other students to board the bus. Educators are concerned students whose schools closed early because of the COVID-19 pandemic will go through the "summer slide" for a longer period of time this year. [The...

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-87aced4f4c4058370c373f627b65d51b.jpg" alt="Photo - Luis Hernandez, at the time an eighth grader at Webster Middle School, waits in 2011 for other students to board the bus. Educators are concerned students whose schools closed early because of the COVID-19 pandemic will go through the "summer slide" for a longer period of time this year. [The Oklahoman Archives] " title=" Luis Hernandez, at the time an eighth grader at Webster Middle School, waits in 2011 for other students to board the bus. Educators are concerned students whose schools closed early because of the COVID-19 pandemic will go through the "summer slide" for a longer period of time this year. [The Oklahoman Archives] "><figcaption> Luis Hernandez, at the time an eighth grader at Webster Middle School, waits in 2011 for other students to board the bus. Educators are concerned students whose schools closed early because of the COVID-19 pandemic will go through the "summer slide" for a longer period of time this year. [The Oklahoman Archives] </figcaption></figure>
Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel joined The Oklahoman in 2019. She found a home at the newspaper while interning in summer 2016 and 2017. Nuria returned to The Oklahoman for a third time after working a year and a half at the Sedalia Democrat in Sedalia,... Read more ›

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