Black students are faring far worse during the pandemic than others, new test data out of Ohio show, with COVID-19’s disruptions setting them back as much as a half year’s worth of learning and widening longstanding racial achievement gaps.

The results of Ohio’s fall 2020 third grade reading tests offer a dire warning on the damage the pandemic could inflict on students across the country, particularly minority students.

“We are seeing existing inequalities grow before our eyes,” said Ohio State University professor Vladimir Kogan, who estimated that students across Ohio have lost a third of a year of learning on average, while Black students have lost half a year. “I think it calls for us as a state to respond.”

The racial gaps could grow even worse as the school year continues, other data released by the Ohio Department of Education last week suggests. Chronic absenteeism across all grades, a problem that invariably damages test scores, grade promotion and even the likelihood of students eventually graduating, has soared since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with Black students once again faring far worse than others. Nearly half of Black students were chronically absent in a sample of 10 districts released by the state.

“Those gaps could be going from terrifying to absolutely astronomical,” said Dave Hersh, director of Proving Ground, a Harvard University program working with schools in Ohio and other states to improve attendance and student learning.

“The gaps were scary before the pandemic,” said Hersh. “If these ratios hold, those gaps are so big now we’re talking about sort of game-changing efforts needed to start addressing them.”

Read the full article about racial inequities in school attendance by Patrick O'Donnell at The 74.