It has been said that “the pandemic can stop schools, but it can’t stop education.”

Nebraska students seem to be proving this statement true. As explained in an article by the Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska students performed better than most of the nation these past few years, but they still lost ground in both reading and math compared to years past. While we can celebrate the triumph of outstanding Nebraska education, we also must look toward solutions to bridge the “educational gap” caused by time spent in the pandemic. Data collected and testimonies from students and teachers will aid in elucidating possible reasons why Nebraska students’ scores have slipped these past three years.

As Miguel A. Cardona, the U.S. secretary of education, stated, “If our goal is simply to go back to where we were before March 2020, we’ll miss the chance to forge opportunity and needed progress from this crisis. We must rethink how we’re engaging with students, families and communities.”

This is the challenge we are facing today. Studies by NWEA, also known as Northwest Evaluation Association, show that national math scores have been at the lowest since the tests were first introduced. The New York Times even noted that half of Houston high school students received at least one F in the fall 2020 semester. This appeared to be a trend in many states throughout the U.S. All things considering, Nebraska seemed to persevere in comparison. Although national averages are low, Nebraska did end up with state scores 6-7 points higher than the national average for math and 3 points higher for reading. Looking at these statistics, we should begin to question what factors contributed to these results.

Because my school is in a rural community, our school did not have as many restrictions compared to highly populated areas on the coasts. We returned to school long before other students in our country but still faced repercussions. Nebraska students also experienced virtual learning, which greatly affected their overall learning experience.

Jaimie Zwiener, a high-achieving student from Boone Central High School in Albion, remarked that “the pandemic affected my learning because online wasn’t the same compared to in-person school. Because I wasn’t physically there in the classroom, I couldn’t learn in the same environment I was used to or have social interaction with teachers and peers who would have been able to enhance my learning experience.”

Many students feel the same as Jaimie, and teachers also have reflected some of the same thoughts about educational changes during the pandemic. Accredited math teacher Jeffery Hrabik remarked that during the pandemic, “the big thing that I noticed was the lack of social, collaborative work, which stifled creative idea development. To me, the best way to understand something is to verbally or physically explain something to someone else. Without that collaboration, learning was no longer the same.”

Learning experiences during the pandemic were similar for almost all students across the nation. What makes Nebraska different is the teachers who actively work to help all students make up for time lost in the classroom.

Our state’s educators and students have persisted through the rigorous and challenging effects of pandemic learning. Although some ground was lost in reading and math scores, Nebraska carried on with scores higher than the national average, and this reflects well on our teachers. Analyzing national data and interpreting real-life experiences assists in a better understanding of the pandemic’s impact on learning. Now, we can all see that while the pandemic can distance us all, it can never stop the reach of education.

In other news

Although many of us have managed to survive January with our sanity and some semblance of a smile still intact (not sure if I fit into that category, but I’m trying), it will be no surprise to most people that January ranks at the bottom for favorite months of the year.