How teachers of BIPOC students are grappling with learning loss (2023)

Among those most impacted by COVID-19 are students, parents, and educators who are still attempting to recover after lengthy stretches of remote learning. According to a 2022 survey, teachers say their priorities have shifted as they deal with slashed budgets, heavy workloads, changing curricula, and addressing student mental health.
Rather than providing much needed funding to get students up to speed and help educators feel safe in the classroom, government resources are drying up, vaccine mandates and COVID-19 protocols are being lifted, and students and educators say they feel they’re being left behind.
This three-part series takes a closer look at how teachers, students, and parents are coping with fear and uncertainty as government priorities shift.

Last fall, U.S. educators were hit with a sobering reality: students across the country had suffered drastic learning loss following school disruptions during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic. A nationwide evaluation called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed declines in math and reading scores for fourth-grade and eighth-grade students in a majority of states between 2019 and 2022. Additionally, an investigation by the Associated Press and Stanford University found roughly 230,000 students had gone “missing” from schools across 21 states since the start of school lockdowns. The number, which the AP noted was likely an underestimation, represents students who could not be accounted for after considering those who had moved states, enrolled in private schools, or shifted to home schooling.

As studies continue to come out about the impact the pandemic has had on test scores, school districts are trying to figure out the best way to help students catch up academically, shifting the focus toward supporting students who are still enrolled in schools, while efforts to help unaccounted students reenter the school system have largely halted. But helping the remaining students will be an uphill battle, particularly for public schools serving low-income and BIPOC-majority student populations, many of which experienced learning gaps before the pandemic.

The 2022 NAEP report, popularly known as “the nation’s report card,” was the first published after pandemic school closures. The report signified the largest average score decline in reading since the NAEP was first performed in 1990 and the first decline in math scores.

“Both this school year and last school year, public school leaders estimated that about half of their students began the school year behind grade level in at least one academic subject,” said Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the national evaluation, in February.

Sienna, an elementary teacher in California’s West Contra Costa Unified School District who has asked to use a pseudonym to protect her identity, has noticed a bigger struggle with younger students who spent their early academic years remotely.

“I’m seeing a much more dramatic issue with the students who are in fourth grade now than the ones that I taught [in sixth grade] in the online years,” said Sienna.

Like other schools serving low-income BIPOC students, Sienna’s students faced learning barriers before the pandemic. Many of her students are English as a second language learners—otherwise known as ESL learners—whose families recently came from Mexico and South America. Learning in a different language has compounded the challenges of remote learning. Many of Sienna’s fourth-grade students are still reading at a kindergarten level, which she believes stems from a combination of spending their formative second-grade year online while being ESL learners, “so they didn’t really get a lot of progress in second grade,” Sienna said.

According to the national report card, ESL students saw average reading scores drop by five points between 2020 and 2022, while the group’s average math scores saw a wider decline of seven points.

But students whose primary language is English have also fallen behind academically. From the same report, the national average mathematics score for fourth graders dropped five points since 2019, while eighth-graders’ math scores dropped by eight points. In terms of reading, average scores for both grades fell by three points.

Even more troubling is the increase of students performing below the NAEP Basic achievement level across both subjects and grade levels since the pre-pandemic era. The 2022 report card showed as much as a quarter of fourth-graders were performing below the NAEP Basic level in math in 2022—an increase from 19% in 2019—while 38% of eighth-graders were performing below NAEP Basic in math, too, an increase of 7 percentage points from 2019. As for reading, 37% of fourth-graders were reading below the NAEP Basic level last year—an increase from 34% in 2019—while 30% of eighth-graders were reading below NAEP Basic in 2022, an increase of 3 percentage points over the same period.

One way teachers are trying to help students is through a web-based assessment program called i-Ready, which can diagnose students’ proficiency levels in math and reading and creates personalized instruction materials for each student based on that assessment. Although the program has existed for years, more school districts have opted to implement the program as schools shifted between in-person and remote learning. Julie Hunter, the assistant principal of a charter school in Philadelphia, said her teachers have been using i-Ready to support in-class learning since the pandemic. She said that her school has prioritized tailored learning to match students’ skills level as teachers try to help students make up for learning loss.

“We spend a lot of time looking at student writing or looking at various student work samples and asking ourselves, ‘OK, what are kids doing really well, and where are areas that the collective or individual students need support with developing?’ And then we’ll co-create responsive teaching lessons that are either delivered whole group or small group to individualize students based on that performance,” Hunter said.

In the West Contra Costa Unified School District, where Sienna teaches, schools have recently adopted i-Ready assessment and teaching tools. While the program has some limitations—Sienna said assessments sometimes did not align with her own evaluation of her students—it has been helpful in curating custom learning materials based on different proficiency levels. But individualized lessons can be challenging to implement for teachers in public schools with larger class sizes.

“A lot of [students] are not silent working when I’m trying to work with a small group, or they just need a lot of consequences and reminders about behavior. And so it’s hard to attend to the small groups,” said Sienna, who teaches 30 students with varying proficiency levels. “I’m not doing a whole class lesson that’s up to fourth-grade level because the ones that don’t even know how to read or write very much are going to be totally lost.” Her biggest ask to support her classroom work would be to have a teacher aide, she said.

In Philadelphia, the eighth-largest school district in the country where the majority of students are Black, the NAEP report showed the district suffered declines in average math scores between 2019 and 2022, dropping from 217 to 209 for fourth graders and just slightly for eighth graders from 256 to 252. While overall there was not a significant change in average reading scores between 2019 and 2022 for fourth-grade and eighth-grade students in Philadelphia, a majority of fourth-graders and nearly half of the eighth-graders in the district were already reading below NEAP’s Basic level prior to the pandemic.

According to Nichelle Morgan, the founding literacy director at Joyful Readers, a tutoring program focused on improving reading proficiency for K-3 students in Philadelphia, there has been a shift in her work between pre-COVID years and now.

“Students who didn’t have access to tutoring services during the pandemic or their parents could not support them at home … definitely saw a bigger gap between students performing below grade level mid-COVID, [compared to] pre-COVID,” Morgan said.

There is not enough data to support whether assessment tools like i-Ready are effective in increasing students’ subject skills. But research has consistently shown tutoring is one of the most effective intervention tools to help students overcome learning gaps. There are, however, caveats—studies suggest tutoring programs are most effective when done in groups of up to three or four students where students can receive one-on-one engagement with the instructor, known as “high-dosage tutoring”; when the tutoring is done multiple times per week; and when it is performed during school hours instead of after school. Notably, tutoring programs that are “opt-in,” meaning struggling students must register to join on their own, have not proven effective.

High-dosage tutoring is particularly important for younger children because “they have this additional opportunity to practice those skills that they may not grasp in the classroom, or, if they’re performing below grade level, the tutors are working on skills that they may have missed in, say, the third grade,” said Morgan, whose organization works with young children who are reading below grade level. Additionally, she noted that two-thirds of tutors under Joyful Readers serving Philadelphia schools are educators of color.

“Building strong readers and improving reading skills comes with providing a space where students feel welcome, students feel comfortable enough to practice reading, and [students are] able to have access to books where they see themselves,” Morgan said.

Some schools have begun making tutoring available for students as a means to combat learning loss from the pandemic. Based on data from the School Pulse Panel, a survey focused on COVID-19-related recovery under the NCES, as of December, about 83% of public schools provide some type of tutoring to their students. However, only 37% of schools offer high-dosage tutoring.

Tutoring is just one way educators can help students succeed. Learning interventions must include more than just extra academic lessons, especially in public schools serving low-income BIPOC students.

“By pressuring or placing an undue amount of pressure on young people … I think that takes away from the organic relationships,” said Hunter of Mastery School. “Educators serve not just to help kids become better readers, writers, mathematicians, critical thinkers, but also to raise the next generation of students to be great people to feel empowered in who they are.”



How can teachers support BIPOC students? ›

Get to know students personally to determine what resources are relevant. Talk to students about their access to resources. Allow students to practice self-care within classroom settings. Remind students that self-care is not selfish.

What are the barriers to education for BIPOC? ›

In Summary

Unique barriers to consider for BIPOC and marginalized student include insufficient student-teacher relationships, cultural stereotypes/racism, lack of financial support and essentializing students.

Why are BIPOC teachers important? ›

Research shows that having BIPOC teachers in the classroom has a positive impact on student achievement, engagement, and other outcomes, especially for students of color and Indigenous students.

Do students learn more being taught by minority teachers why or why not? ›

Research indicates that minority students are more likely to have higher standardized test scores, improved attendance, and lower suspension rates when they have at least one same-race teacher.

What is something teachers could do to support students cultural diversity in the classroom? ›

Acknowledge and Respect Every Student

When appropriate, teachers should encourage students to research and learn about their own ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This allows them to better understand their own culture as well as the differences and nuances with their peers.

How can you as a teacher better support culturally diverse students in your classroom? ›

The following practices provide five essential strategies for how educators can make their learning environments more culturally responsive.
  • Know your students. ...
  • Be aware of your own personal biases. ...
  • Transform your pedagogy and curriculum. ...
  • Respect and reinforce student culture. ...
  • Involve family and community.
Aug 31, 2020

How do you empower students in BIPOC? ›

Empowering Students of Color
  1. Understand Their Background and Lifestyle. True education happens when students feel safe and understood. ...
  2. Give a Personalized Experience. ...
  3. Increase Employability. ...
  4. Provide Successful Mentors of Color. ...
  5. Make Them the Teachers.
Aug 11, 2020

What are the challenges faced by BIPOC? ›

The nonprofit sector is highly competitive, with organizations often competing for the same limited resources. BIPOC leaders may face additional barriers to success, such as discrimination, bias, and lack of support from within the sector.

What issues are BIPOC youth facing? ›

BIPOC youth face barriers from racism, discrimination, cultural insensitivity and cultural stigma that prevent access to mental health services and cause negative experiences upon usage.

What are BIPOC teachers? ›

I was motivated by my racial identity awareness to explore the importance of belonging and support for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) teachers.

How do we keep teachers of color in education? ›

Retaining Teachers of Color
  1. Creating a Positive and Inclusive School Climate/Culture. ...
  2. Strong School Site Leadership. ...
  3. Classroom Autonomy. ...
  4. Strong Induction and Mentorship Programs. ...
  5. Reconsidering School Closures in Urban Areas. ...
  6. Resources.
Mar 9, 2023

Why is it important for teachers to be culturally aware? ›

Culturally responsive teaching builds on cultural awareness, using that competence to better communicate with students and their families, according to Teachaway. The goal is to empower students by understanding their cultural backgrounds and tailoring learning to meet and celebrate their experiences.

How does teacher diversity affect students? ›

Studies show all students benefit when they have access to teachers of color, but this is especially true for minority children. They have better academic performance, improved graduation rates, and are more likely to attend college when taught by teachers of color.

How racially diverse schools can benefit all students? ›

For instance, we know that diverse classrooms, in which students learn cooperatively alongside those whose perspectives and backgrounds are different from their own, are beneficial to all students, including middle-class white students, because they promote creativity, motivation, deeper learning, critical thinking, ...

Why is there a lack of diverse teachers? ›

Educators at the summit said the lack of early-career support for people of color contributes to large numbers leaving the profession. Teacher preparation programs, usually completed after earning a college degree, greatly impact an educator's potential to stay and thrive in the profession.

How should a teacher show respect to students diverse cultural backgrounds? ›

One way teachers can honor cultural differences is by letting students from different cultures be the expert. Teaching other students about traditions, explaining the history and geography of countries and regions, and sharing cultural experiences are some ways to let these students know they are valued and welcome.

How can teachers be responsive to cultural diversity? ›

Culturally relevant curricula.

Teachers should include multiple perspectives in their instruction and make sure the images displayed in classrooms—such as on bulletin boards—represent a wide range of diversity. Teachers should also contextualize issues within race, class, ethnicity, and gender.

How do you motivate a culturally diverse group of students in the classroom? ›

Create an Inclusive Class Environment
  1. Establish norms of mutual respect. Explicitly announce and model norms of participation and response.
  2. Provide opportunities for multicultural sharing to develop connections among students. ...
  3. Communicate responsiveness to different student backgrounds.

What are three ways teachers can help improve relationships among ethnically diverse students? ›

Strategies for improving relationships among ethnically diverse students:
  • Turn the class into a jigsaw classroom.
  • Encourage students to have positive personal contact with diverse other students.
  • Reduce bias.
  • View the school and community as a team.
  • Be a competent cultural mediator.

How do teachers accommodate diverse learners? ›

For teaching a diverse mix of learners, you might consider small groups of similar interest, learning styles or even mixed groupings of abilities. Studies show that peer teaching can be an extremely effective strategy, encouraging independence and strengthening social relationships.

How can a teacher accommodate and teach multicultural disadvantaged learners in the classroom? ›

Reading stories from different cultures and in various languages is the best way to promote multiculturalism in a classroom. You can choose stories that focus on characters from different cultures to help the students relate even more. Board games allow the students to interact with each other.

How do you make students culturally responsive? ›

4 ways to practice culturally responsive teaching
  1. Build a positive classroom culture. ...
  2. Get to know your students and families. ...
  3. Provide opportunities for students to see themselves in the learning. ...
  4. Set high expectations for all students.
Mar 17, 2022

How can I support BIPOC? ›

How To Support BIPOC Mental Health
  • Educate yourself.
  • Listen with intention and respect.
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • Show up in an authentic way.
Jul 30, 2021

How do you motivate students to diversity? ›

7 things you can do to teach diverse learners
  1. Make an IEP cheat sheet. ...
  2. Encourage active learning. ...
  3. Embrace small group and learning stations. ...
  4. Group by learning style, not ability. ...
  5. Promote project-based learning. ...
  6. Incorporate ed-tech and adaptive learning tools. ...
  7. Provide alternative testing options.
Oct 31, 2019

What are BIPOC core values? ›

Our Mission

The BIPOC Project aims to build authentic and lasting solidarity among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), in order to undo Native invisibility, anti-Blackness, dismantle white supremacy and advance racial justice.

What are the obstacles of minority groups? ›

Ethnic minority families are more likely to experience discrimination and prejudice. Prejudice and stereotyping can cause frustrations that can contribute to violent or aggressive behavior. Reporting violence or criminal behavior can be unacceptable in some communities, which leaves the problem unaddressed.

Why do BIPOC choose not to seek mental health support? ›

Stigma, Mistrust, and Cultural Attitudes

People from all ethnic backgrounds may avoid seeking mental healthcare for various reasons. But research shows that hesitancy is more common in BIPOC communities. Experts suggest a few reasons for this. Social stigma is prevalent among Black Americans.

What is one obstacle BIPOC survivors may experience that is specific to the BIPOC community when seeking help? ›

CARE recognizes that BIPOC communities may have experienced instances of interpersonal racism with medical providers, police officers, university officials, or other individuals in positions of power as well as institutional racism with educational settings, governmental systems, law enforcement, and the legal system.

What are the problems in African American youth? ›

Black youth in the United States experience significant illness, poverty, and discrimination. These issues put them at higher risk for suicide, depression, and other mental health problems.

What does BIPOC stand for in mental health? ›

Here's a brief explanation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) mental health, the factors that make it difficult for underserved communities to receive care, and what mental health care providers can do to overcome accessibility disparities.

What is the lack of black teachers in schools? ›

Although 13 percent of the U.S. population is Black, only 7 percent of all public school teachers are. And despite efforts to diversify the teaching workforce, the percentage of Black teachers has dropped by one percentage point in the last 20 years.

What is culturally responsive teaching for black students? ›

Culturally responsive teaching empowers African American students to use as tools for learning their own funds of knowledge (Moll et al., 1992), or the knowledge and skills developed in the course of their own experiences and in the context of their own cultural environment.

How can teachers support black students? ›

Give them the opportunity to teach each other and share their own stories. Ask them questions and allow them to give you feedback. Empower your students to feel comfortable enough with you and their classmates that they can say when something is bothering them or that they feel underrepresented.

What can teachers do to help black students? ›

5 Ways to Help Black Students Feel Welcome
  • Pronounce the names of your students correctly. ...
  • Get to know the Black children in your class. ...
  • Present Black history and culture in ways that are affirming—not from a deficit model. ...
  • Present diversity within the Black aesthetic.
Jun 11, 2021

How do teachers of color affect student achievement? ›

Using these data, we find that exposure to teachers of color significantly improves short- and medium-term outcomes among elementary school students of color, including disciplinary actions, dropout rates, and high school graduation.

How do you teach in a culturally diverse classroom? ›

How can you Promote Diversity and Multiculturalism in the Classroom?
  1. Get to Know Your Students. ...
  2. Maintain Consistent Communication. ...
  3. Acknowledge and Respect Every Student. ...
  4. Practice Cultural Sensitivity. ...
  5. Incorporate Diversity in the Lesson Plan. ...
  6. Give Students Freedom and Flexibility.

What are the challenges of diversity in the classroom? ›

Yet diversity of faculty, staff, and students also brings challenges. Increasing diversity can lead to less cohesiveness, less effective communication, increased anxiety, and greater discomfort for many members of a community.

How can teachers be culturally aware? ›

Include allowances for cultural necessities in classroom rules, choose texts that are relevant to and explore cultural differences, and communicate with students and parents about needs and expectations. That last one is particularly important.

How can teachers support diverse learners? ›

Having an elastic, accepting, and caring mindset, providing direct instruction, creating time for collaboration, and teaching advocacy are ways to construct an effective learning environment for all of our students who each have a unique and developing mind.

How to motivate a culturally diverse group of students in the classroom? ›

Create an Inclusive Class Environment
  1. Establish norms of mutual respect. Explicitly announce and model norms of participation and response.
  2. Provide opportunities for multicultural sharing to develop connections among students. ...
  3. Communicate responsiveness to different student backgrounds.

How would you build classrooms that support indigenous students? ›

Here are a few strategies that can make indigenous students feel welcome and supported.
  • Reflect on your assumptions and design for inclusion.
  • Build indigenous students' sense of self-efficacy.
  • Attend to the needs of first generation students.
  • Connect indigenous students with peers.

How do you build relationships with culturally diverse students? ›

1. Build a relationship with every student.
  1. Demonstrating interest in students' welfare.
  2. Respecting students' perspectives.
  3. Telling students they can succeed.
  4. Knowing students' academic and social needs.
  5. Recognizing students' academic and social achievements.
May 11, 2018

How can you make your classroom more culturally responsive? ›

4 ways to practice culturally responsive teaching
  1. Build a positive classroom culture.
  2. Get to know your students and families.
  3. Provide opportunities for students to see themselves in the learning.
  4. Set high expectations for all students.
  5. Other resources to support your practice.
Mar 17, 2022

In what way teachers can strengthen multicultural education? ›

Bring students together through problem-based learning to solve real world issues. Howell suggests not always letting students choose their own groups; pairing students with different partners can help create an inclusive environment and foster empathy between classmates.


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