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Report: Remote Learning Helped Some Make Progress in Math

Studying ways to improve student math scores, particularly for non-white students, the nonprofit College Bridge found some Black and Latino students benefited from receiving lessons online as opposed to in person.

A little girl raises her hand in front of her laptop while distance learning.
(Hananeko Studio /
Policymakers up to President Joe Biden have pushed for a full return to in-person learning this year to address “learning loss” and a decline in students’ emotional well-being, among other pandemic-adjacent issues reported by K-12 officials across the U.S. But returning to “normal” could mean slowing the progress some students made in math through remote learning, according to Lynn Cevallos, CEO and founder of College Bridge, an education nonprofit focused on improving math performance in grades K-16.

Cevallos said the problem of growing achievement gaps in math, particularly between non-white and white students, has been an issue for decades. Seeing this disparity, the nonprofit’s South Los Angeles Math (SLAM) program has been working in recent years to place students in dual enrollment courses to improve their math skills. Cevallos said part of the aim of the nonprofit was to keep underrepresented students engaged in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses throughout K-12 and higher education, and to research the effects of intervention strategies.

“We’ve been addressing the gaps with Black and Latinx students, particularly to be successful in college math. It’s been a real issue with their college completion, to get over that math hurdle,” she said of the focus of the nonprofit. “Usually, about half of them start as STEM majors, change their mind and leave STEM, because they tend to view calculus as a barrier.”

According to a recent report from the Math Pipeline Readiness Program (M-PReP), the nonprofit’s research project studying math instruction and intervention programs including SLAM, about 75 percent of students said their remote learning experience was “generally good” during the 2020-21 school year.

Of the 7,000 students in grades 6-12 surveyed last school year, the report said 20 percent preferred learning math online and would choose that option in the future. Participation in dual-enrollment courses and pass rates held steady among 439 students during campus closures in the 2020-21 school year, with an aggregate pass rate of 84 percent, the same as the previous seven years of the program.

“I feel as if recorded lessons really help because if I need to rewind on a part I don’t understand, I can until I understand that. I obviously can’t do that in person,” said one student testimony in the report. “I can ask questions, but I don’t feel comfortable with everybody staring at me, making me feel dumb.”

Cevallos said the report’s findings suggest online lessons could help many students remain engaged and improve performance in STEM-related courses in and after high school, particularly students with social anxiety or other conditions.

While many schools across the U.S. now plan to keep digital learning options in place after the return to in-person learning, many are still largely resistant to the new model, according to Cevallos.

“We’re trying to get schools to look at what we can learn from the pandemic and what works, but we are pushing against this huge bureaucracy that’s slow-moving and where people want to go back to the way things were ... It’s unfortunate because a lot of students were better served, at least in mathematics, in remote instruction,” she said. “We hope we can get our research out there so schools will consider [continuing] distance and online learning as an option for students.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM-related fields are expected to grow at least 12 percent by 2029 amid the digitization happening in public- and private-sector jobs.

Despite a demand for professionals with STEM backgrounds, numbers released last year by companies such as Google and Twitter showed Black and Latino men and women remained largely underrepresented in the tech workforce.

Cevallos suggested that digital learning could both improve student performance and help familiarize students with technology ahead of employment in tech.

“We hear these [tech companies] lamenting how they don’t have a lot of diversity in the workforce,” she said, acknowledging that hiring practices may still be at play as well.

“We should have had kids learning more with technology before the turn of the century,” she added. “What job doesn’t have you using technology of some sort?”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.