Angel Hope looked at the math test and felt lost. He had just graduated near the top of his high school class, winning scholarships from prestigious colleges. But on this test — a University of Wisconsin exam that measures what new students learned in high school — all he could do was guess.
It was like the disruption of the pandemic was catching up to him all at once.
Nearly a third of Hope’s high school career was spent at home, in virtual classes that were hard to follow and easy to brush aside. Some days he skipped school to work extra hours at his job. Some days he played games with his brother and sister. Other days he just stayed in bed.
Algebra got little of his attention, but his teachers kept giving him good grades amid a school-wide push for leniency.
“It was like school was optional. It wasn’t a mandatory thing,” said Hope, 18, of Milwaukee. “I feel like I didn’t really learn anything.”
Across the country, there are countless others like him. Hundreds of thousands of recent graduates are heading to college this fall after spending more than half their high school careers dealing with the upheaval of a pandemic. They endured a jarring transition to online learning, the strains from teacher shortages and profound disruptions to their home lives. And many are believed to be significantly behind academically.
Colleges could see a surge in students unprepared for the demands of college-level work, education experts say. Starting a step behind can raise the risk of dropping out. And that can hurt everything from a person’s long-term earnings to the health of the country’s workforce.
The extent of the problem became apparent to Allison Wagner as she reviewed applications for All-In Milwaukee, a scholarship program that provides financial aid and college counseling to low-income students, including Hope.
Wagner, the group’s executive director, saw startling numbers of students who were granted permission to spend half the school day working part-time jobs their senior year, often at fast food chains or groceries. And she saw more students than ever who didn’t take math or science classes their senior year, often as a result of teacher shortages.
“We have so many students who are going on to college academically malnourished,” Wagner said. “There is no way they are going to be academically prepared for the rigor of college.”
Her group is boosting its tutoring budget and covering tuition for students in the program who take summer classes in math or science. Still, she fears the setbacks will force some students to take more than four years to graduate or, worse, drop out.
“The stakes are tremendously high,” she said.
Researchers say it’s clear that remote instruction caused learning setbacks, most sharply among Black and Hispanic students. For younger students, there’s still hope that America’s schools can accelerate the pace of instruction and close learning gaps. But for those who graduated in the last two years, experts fear many will struggle.
In anticipation of higher needs, colleges from New Jersey to California have been expanding “bridge” programs that provide summer classes, often for students from lower incomes or those who are the first in their families to attend college. Programs previously treated as orientation are taking on a harder academic edge, with a focus on math, science and study skills.
In Hanceville, Alabama, Wallace State Community College this year tapped state money to create its first summer bridge program as it braces for an influx of underprepared students. Students could take three weeks of accelerated lessons in math and English in a bid to avoid remedial classes.
The school hoped to bring up to 140 students to campus, but just 10 signed up.
Other states have used federal pandemic relief to help colleges build summer programs. In Kentucky, which gave colleges $3.5 million for the effort this year, officials called it a “moral imperative.”
Read the Latest News and Breaking News here
Originally published at www.news18.com