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Elise Stolte: Alberta must keep elementary schools open, online learning was a disaster for struggling kids

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It’s what officials expected, and what Alberta teachers have been warning about.

Emergency online school is different than choice — when those parents who have time, computers and internet get to decide to keep their children home. When there is no choice, those students who most need the desks, physical presence of a teacher and structure of school will suffer.

George Georgiou, professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta, was fortunate to have access to a perfect sample group when the lockdown hit. For four years, he’s been working with 25 schools in Leduc, Elk Island, Edmonton and Fort Vermillion to measure and support student literacy through standardized tests three times a year.

Before the March 2020 lockdown, he had tests from 4,000 students in each grade from Grade 2 to Grade 9, covering the full range of student ability.

When students took the same tests in September 2020, students from Grade 4 and older had generally improved their reading ability. But students Grade 3 and younger suffered. They were the ones reading roughly six to eight months behind.

Separate from that, Georgiou was running an Alberta Education-funded research project with 1,560 Grade 1 students from 84 classes. They were tested in September 2019 and January 2020, when 540 of them were flagged as struggling readers. They were supposed to get in-person help learning letters and sounding out words like c-a-t and h-a-t. Then schools went online and that program ended.

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