9 Investigates

The push to close the pandemic learning gap

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. — Every school district across the country is still working to close the learning gap caused by virtual learning during the pandemic.

The gap is measured based on where students are right now, compared to where they should be for their grade level. And in some cases, the data shows, students were as many as three years behind when they returned to in-person learning.


Channel 9 spent hours with teachers, administrators, and parents to find out how federal funding is helping.

The school day looks different for this group of second- and third-graders at Forest City Elementary in Altamonte Springs. Teachers leading small groups are focused on making sure the children know how to read.

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“I think for us on the literacy side, some of the biggest gaps that we saw were at the primary grade levels, especially in grades, kindergarten and first grade due to the fact that that last quarter of 2020 that they missed is usually the time of year when those students really have like their academic growth spurt,” ELA and social studies coordinator Michelle Pisani said.

Third grade is a critical stage for kids. If they don’t master reading, they risk failure in learning math, social studies, and science. All require reading comprehension.

Across the country, data has found children from elementary through high school are anywhere from one to three years behind. The most recent data in Seminole County shows fewer students in third through fifth grade are reading two or more grades below their current grade level. They’re making gains through programs and intervention services, including tutoring, spring break and Saturday camp.

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“We are seeing, you know, just some detriments when it comes to simple sentence structure or reading skills, things that it would have been good to build on those, you know, the building blocks of your reading comprehension,” reading and math coordinator Shannon Gill said.

This district is no different in how it assesses the needs of students.

“So, we use that in an assessment called iReady in this district. That gives us assessment data points three times per year.  So right away, when students returned in 2020, in the fall, right in August, we were able to see, OK, here’s where students are starting and where they’re going to go from here based off that gap in instruction that had happened in spring 2020,” said Tiffany Spradling, math and science coordinator.

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There’s no limit to the intervention taking place at Forest City Elementary.

“We target again our students for if they have one year to year three or learning gaps to join these tutorial groups. So not only are they getting the intervention during the school day, but they’re also getting intervention after school or in the morning,” said Forest City Elementary Principal Joseph Avellino.

Tonya Witte knew her daughter was behind when she got a call from her teacher this year, offering solutions to help.

“So, we worked with her at home and try to do more like one on one with her as well, trying to get that comfortability level.  Sometimes they are afraid to ask for help. They don’t want to let you down in a way. But at the same time, I said, don’t feel ashamed to ask if you don’t understand. The best way is to ask. They can always break it down and we can break it down to a way that you will understand it. And you know their children, they want to race through everything,” Tonya Witte stated.

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But the race is long and stumbling out of the blocks only means pushing harder to catch up.

“What my plea would be, that it’s a combination of home and school and many of the students who have severe gaps, we’re talking a year or two years, that is not going to happen in six months or a year. So, grace would be great. Give us some grace. We really are doing everything that we can,” intervention specialist April Comer said.

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