D.C. Public Schools are closed until at least April 24 but Mayor Muriel Bowser says campuses will likely be closed longer.
Student performance in D.C. schools could tumble significantly if the coronavirus keeps students out of classrooms for the rest of the academic year.
An analysis released Tuesday from EmpowerK12, a non-profit that analyzes education data, projected students' scores on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams (PARCC), with and without the disruption caused by the novel coronavirus.
If schools had not closed, 34% of students in grades 3 to 8 would have passed math exams and 44% would have passed English exams, according to the report. Those numbers would drop to 24% and 28%, respectively, if schools remain closed until August, the report found.
Students have made gains on PARCC in recent years. In the 2018-2019 school year, 37% of D.C. students were prepared for college English and 31% were prepared for college math. Students will not take the standardized tests this school year after the U.S. Department of Education said it would waive testing requirements because of the virus.
D.C. Public Schools and many charter schools are closed until at least April 24, but Mayor Muriel Bowser said it is unlikely students will return to school by the end of the month. Schools in some states, including Virginia, have shuttered for the rest of the academic year.
Joshua Boots, founder and executive director of EmpowerK12, said researchers reviewed data on summer learning loss and the effects natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina had on student performance.
"We know distance learning, while admirable, isn't going to have the same sort of impact and fidelity as having a regular school day," he said.
Boots said the projections are based on a representative sample of six elementary and middle charter schools in four wards. Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, educate nearly 44,000 students in the District.
Paul Kihn, the city's deputy mayor of education, said the report "highlights why the decision to transition to learning at home was so difficult."
"Our clear preference is to have in-class instruction," Kihn said in a statement. "I am confident our ongoing work will deliver the best possible results for students despite the current circumstance and that the District will come together to support our collective recovery."
Charter schools and the city's traditional public schools, like many across the country, are conducting distance learning during the school closures. In D.C. Public Schools, teachers are using Canvas and other online platforms to communicate with the system's 51,000 students and have printed hard copies of assignments for students who may not have access to technology.
City officials decided this week to distribute laptops to elementary and middle school students in the system, after outcry from parents and advocates who said the lack of access to technology would hurt students' learning. Still, some parents and teachers doubt students will get the same quality of education while learning from home.
The EmpowerK12 report said virtual schooling "has shown little evidence of success," especially for students from low-income families and students with disabilities.
The report makes several recommendations, including extending the next two school years by at least five percent to make up for lost instructional time. It also suggests scheduling days in April where educators can assess teaching methods and students' progress.