Older students need more attention post-pandemic, report finds

Although they are back in physical classrooms, increasing chronic absenteeism, behavioral issues and record low test scores prove that students are still struggling post-pandemic.

Four graduating classes have been impacted by the public health crisis, including roughly 13.5 million California students, and undergraduate enrollment at public universities and community colleges dipped 7 percent between 2019 and 2023.

The State of the American Student: Fall 2023, a report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), Arizona State University’s nonpartisan research and policy analysis center, cautions that older students who have the least time to catch up academically need immediate attention.

Indicators that are cause for concern for the educational and social-emotional well-being of students who recently graduated high school and those nearing graduation cited in the report include:

  • The lowest ACT college admission scores in three decades
  • The practice of grade inflation that leaves students exiting the K-12 system unprepared to meet the demands of college or careers
  • The prominence of persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness being reported by teenage girls across the U.S.
  • The Northwest Evaluation Association’s estimate that it will take the average eighth grade 7.4 months to catch up to pre-pandemic reading levels and 9.1 months to catch up in math.

Additionally, continued inequities among student groups means the most vulnerable young people feel the greatest negative impact.

Ultimately, the report concludes that the recovery strategies schools are using, like high-impact tutoring, mental health supports and opportunities for individualized instruction, are falling short. At the same time, educators are more stressed, and research has found that the quality of teaching has gone down.

As deadlines for spending federal relief aid approach and the teacher shortage worsens, societal changes like automation will put new demands on the next generation and make securing a middle-class job more difficult, according to the report. Parents’ naivety on the pressing nature of these issues “makes it tougher for policymakers to respond with the necessary boldness,” the report states.

CRPE highlights examples of schools providing competency-based education, dual enrollment opportunities, chances to explore career interests and non-college options, instruction on artificial intelligence and other innovative approaches to reviving student engagement and success. The report features insights from 14 experts from various sectors offering their opinions on what changes can be made and how to address immediate recovery needs and build better pathways to college and career.

Finally, the report lists recommendations for local, state and federal leaders to consider to aid the “COVID generation,” including:

  • Offering transparency regarding the effectiveness of schools in ensuring that every child is on track to master core skills
  • Investing in a national youth intervention strategy
  • Investing in high school and college mastery programs
  • Supporting research to track the COVID generation’s progress
  • Rethinking high school to career pathways
  • Investing in a new American high school model