At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, school shutdowns required 55 million K-12 students across the United States to stay home. But kids were still required to learn — all while being separated from outside activities, friends, and in some cases, family.
Talk to teachers and many of them will tell you that students not reading or doing math on grade level is nothing new — but thanks to social promotion, many go on to the next grade anyway.
Indeed, in a now-viral video, QB The Don, a seventh grade math teacher in Atlanta calls out parents and administrators for promoting students to the next grade, even when kids are significantly behind.
“Ima just say this,” he said in the video. “I teach seventh grade. They are still performing on a fourth grade level.”
He expressed how people aren’t talking enough about the low performances throughout schools, although teachers are being blamed for the low scores.
“Why they not talking about that? And why don’t y’all know that y’all kids not performing on their grade level? Y’all be quick to talk about the teacher this,” he said.
He’s not alone in taking to social media to express concern — or outrage — over how behind some kids are. One X (formerly Twitter) user recently uploaded a photo of an alleged assignment from an eighth grader. Every word is misspelled.
In the recent Education Recovery Scoreboard project, researchers found that by 2022, the typical student in the poorest districts had lost three-quarters of a year in math, more than double the decline of students in the richest districts. The declines in math scores were twice as large as the declines in reading scores, and were similarly much larger in poor districts than rich districts.
“Nobody is talking about how they keep passing em on,“ QB The Don said. “I could put as many zeros in this grade book as I want to, they gon’ move that child to the eighth grade next year.”
Students Are Still Behind, But Why?
Ernest Crim III, a former Chicagoland-based veteran classroom teacher and current anti-racism and Black history educator with nearly 600,000 followers on TikTok and Instagram, says the issue QB The Don raised is a conversation he’s had countless times with educators, family, and close friends. It’s a conversation he has with his wife, who’s still a classroom teacher.
“He was correct about how kids were passed along. That definitely does happen.” Crim tells Word In Black. “It was implied before the pandemic, but it became dang near mandatory during the pandemic and when we transitioned back. That revealed to me more than anything the school industry is a business.”
The former high school history teacher say principals, administrators, and educators need to pay closer attention to the data coming out of the classrooms, to see which students need to receive individualized attention.
“Our system just presupposes that like, you’re 10, you’re 10, y’all at the same level, and that’s not the case,” Crim says. Individualized Education Plans can help specific students diagnosed with learning disabilities, but the vast majority of kids need help.
Schools need to figure out “what kids need to be pulled out and receive extra attention where the curriculum and content is being reemphasized,” Crim says.
The Crisis of Student Mental Health
“I provide mental health at a middle school,” one user replied to the X post with the misspelled words. “Some of my kids can’t read Cat in the Hat. It’s not my job to teach them how to read, but they can’t make it through simple mental health lessons b/c they can’t read.”
Crim says students were dealing with a lot post pandemic. Many of them were even suicidal, which is part of the difficulty to seamlessly transition back into producing high scoring results.
“I had Black children telling me, on assignments anyway, that they attempted suicide, “ Crim says. “They wanted to end their life. These kids sat behind a screen for two years almost, no interaction, and we kind of just threw them back in there and said, ‘Go ahead, get those test scores up.’”
As studies show, suicide rates among Black youths have more than doubled, with researchers attributing it to various “sociological factors and structures.”
Black boys ages 0-19 have more than twice the suicide rate of Black girls in their age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
For progress to happen, schools have to continue to acknowledge how difficult the pandemic was, and still is for many students, while also continuing to implement new teaching styles, Crim says.
“Because of the pandemic and also social media, I think mental health and trauma, and stuff we deal with in this country, especially as Black folks, I think it’s exacerbated,” he says.
Looking for Solutions
QB The Don didn’t offer specific solutions in his video. But Crim says that as far as education legislation and policy goes, decision makers and legislators have to take a back seat and listen to community leaders and educators about what students really need.
Although many TikTok commenters agreed with the Atlanta educator, others felt his commenting as a teacher on such a sensitive topic wasn’t appropriate. But, says Crim, people become teachers “because they have the right intentions and right reason.
“However, the reality is educators have a difficult job,” Crim says. “They don’t always get the support they need, and the pressure is on them to ensure kids move on to the next grade.”
That trickles down to students. “Kids are overworked, kids are getting homework daily, kids are preparing to take a test, not to learn, ” Crim explains. They’re trying to hit the half court shot, not learn the fundamentals of hitting the layup first.”
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