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Students face 'COVID slide' and learning loss; some NC districts consider cutting summer break short

State education officials have predicted more North Carolina students will have to repeat a grade than at any other time in the last 100 years.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On Friday the CDC is expected to release new in-person learning guidelines for schools amid President Biden’s pledge to reopen schools in his first 100 days. 

All as new data shows students are falling behind more than ever, in what some are calling the "COVID slide."

“While there have been great systems put in place with the use of Canvas and other online resources, and teachers are working really, really hard, nothing really compares to what happens when a teacher is with a group of students five days a week," said Dr. Drew Polly, elementary education professor at UNC Charlotte. 

There's no question online learning has been tough for many kids and families. The proof is in the data.

CMS said nearly 38,000 of their students – about a third -- are failing at least one class.

RELATED: CDC to announce school reopening guidance Friday

That’s nearly double the pre-pandemic fail rate.

State education officials have predicted more North Carolina students will have to repeat a grade than at any other time in the last 100 years.

 “One thing that we are seeing now, based on data being reported by school districts, is that there are more and more students that are not meeting what they consider quarterly benchmarks, or quarterly expectations for learning,” Polly said. “There's just a need to think about, alright, as a parent, what can I be doing at home?”

“We've been doing a whole lot of reading, we've been doing a whole lot of informal learning, and playing board games that have an educational spin, spending a whole lot of time outside. It all comes down to experiences and not seat hours,” he said. 

Those so-called "seat hours" a hot debate in the Tarheel state, as some school districts like Alamance Burlington have initiated legal action in hopes of cutting summer break short to avoid even more learning loss.

North Carolina law as it stands does not allow school districts to set their own schedules, and therefore districts can not independently shorten summer break. Newly introduced legislation aims to change that, specifically to address the "COVID slide."

RELATED: CMS board meets ahead of return to in-person learning

 “When you keep catching up and keep catching up, we just never get ahead," said Sara Rich, a mom of two, principal for more than 20 years and founder of literacy-based program Just Right Reader.

She suggests parents focus on reading. 

Education nonprofit NWEA predicts the "Covid slide" could lead to a 30% loss in students’ reading gains.

“It's real," Rich said. "Kids are behind, their confidence is behind too. So not only are they having trouble reading, but they're also because it's because it's so discouraging.”

Rich said it's important for families to implement positive reinforcement at home.

 “Whenever you're reading, celebrate it, make a list, put it get a calendar, every time you read for 15 minutes, give it a star, give it a smiley face. The more that kids can see their progress and feel good about their progress, the more they're gonna want to do it," she said.

RELATED: North Carolina Senate passes bill that would require school districts to provide in-person learning option for students K-12

Polly predicts this past year will have a big impact on learning for years to come, with more emphasis on mental health and creative solutions, rather than test scores and benchmarks.

 “As we now see virus numbers go down and as we go back to schools, there's a need more than ever for educational district and school leaders to give teachers freedom," Polly said, "To not say, 'you need to follow the textbook page by page by page,' but instead saying to the teachers, 'we trust you'…figure out where your kids are, and based on the data, let's together work as a team to grow and develop these kids, instead of just relying on a textbook."