Are Students Falling Behind?

From March 2020 to August 2021, students across the country were at home for virtual learning. Parents, teachers, and researchers are suggesting that yes, students have fallen behind. Kids who were in seventh grade are now freshmen. Current seniors have been thrust into leadership positions after last being in school as sophomores. 

But do students feel behind? The short answer is no. When everyone is dealing with the same strange occurrence throughout the world, it’s hard to say that anyone is behind. 

Comparing test scores and reading levels to those of past years, of course students seem “behind.” However, measuring growth does not have to stay in the confined box of standardized testing. As students had to cope with the rapid changes to their daily lives, they gained different skills. But there aren’t any standardized tests related to the skills utilized to survive the lockdown.

Parents seem to forget that children have the most unique ability: to adapt. This generation will be different and should be different. The Baby Boomers, Gen X, and even the Millenials did not see their teenage years impeded by a global pandemic, yet these older generations claim we’re behind, and the shutdown impeded our abilities. But what are those abilities? Does that mean it impacted how students calculated the derivative of a function? Or how we analyzed a literature passage? The truth is these are just some of our many abilities, the ones that can be easily tested. 

Since day one, students had to adapt to the shut down. We learned how to keep in touch with friends and stay socialized. We had to manage our mental health when the world seemed dark. Students mastered connecting with peers over a videoconference; a skill that has been used globally and in the corporate world for years. We helped teachers learn how to use technology, even educating them on how to share their screen in a Google Meet, all while sitting at our kitchen table. We took the ongoing technology issues, like Google crashing, in stride and kept pushing forward. We dealt with personal dilemmas like financial instability, sick loved ones, and on top of all that, the intricacies of growing up, and learned more about ourselves than we would have in a traditional classroom. The pandemic has shown that youth are resilient, and young minds are always changing to fit new information into semi-formed connections. 

It’s not as if we aren’t made to change. Brain plasticity is the way the brain adapts and continues to function following an event. If the brain can change, so can we. No SAT or SOL will be able to test a student on the leadership and compassion that students developed over the course of the pandemic. I spent my New Year’s Eve watching my mother go to the hospital for COVID-19, and the following month, I helped my family recuperate from the mental and physical toll of the illness. No test in school can demonstrate exactly how I matured because of those events. 

Students have other skills that lie outside the prescribed K-12 educational system. Instead of reading The Catcher in the Rye, kids are waiting to hear an update about a family member who’s suffering from COVID, and instead of solving for x, they’re solving for an answer to where their next meal will come from.

So no, students don’t feel like they’re falling behind. They do feel like they’re being defined, not by themselves, but rather by their parents’ and teachers’ standards. This generation holds different values than the other generations, but that shouldn’t be viewed as negative. We will keep moving forward through whatever life throws at us (even if it is another pandemic), constantly adapting to not fall behind our own set standards.