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Virginia schools plan gradual reopening as evidence of online learning gap piles up

Hannah Natanson, The Washington Post |

More evidence emerged this week that online school is taking its worst academic toll on Virginia’s most vulnerable students, as superintendents in the state — facing mounting pressure to reopen schools — took tentative steps toward in-person instruction.

On Thursday, Arlington Public Schools — which enrolls 26,000 in Northern Virginia — published early data on young students’ literacy levels. Results of the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, known as PALS, showed that the percentage of kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders meeting literacy benchmarks dropped slightly, by single-digits, for every age group.

But the declines were far steeper for students of color and English-learner students. The percentage of Hispanic K-2 students achieving the benchmark dropped by nearly 15 percentage points this year, to 60 percent, while the percentage of Black students hitting the mark dropped by roughly 10 percentage points to 78 percent.

The percentage of English learners dropped even more precipitously. Just 20 percent of first-grade English learners met the literacy benchmark, although 46 percent of that group had done so last academic year. Similarly, 44 percent of second-grade English learners hit the mark, as compared with roughly 74 percent of that group last year.

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