High school students share useful lessons from Covid-19 pandemic

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Was the Covid-19 pandemic all bad? Well, according to Fairfax County high school seniors Rashi Adhikari and Kuber Gohil, there were some helpful lessons learned because of it. Based on their statistical analysis, falling test scores provide an incomplete picture of student learning. 

The two wrote an op-ed, counteracting the notion that lower test scores among students due to the pandemic was not always the case.  

“The media portrays that our learning was hindered because of the pandemic and online learning, or that we lost a year of learning because of it,” Adhikari said. “But it didn’t feel that way. It wasn’t traditional but it didn’t stop us from learning.” 

Rashi Adhikari
Rashi Adhikari

It was certainly not an easy time, but the pandemic brought about crash courses in time management, communicating, self-management, and organization that Adhikari and Gohil say they and many of their classmates may not have learned otherwise, at least not all at once. 

“When Covid-19 hit, we were both in eighth grade,” Gohil said. “We wanted to do something like this based on our experience, to shed light on the newer skills high schoolers learned because of the pandemic.” 

Both Adhikari and Gohil, friends since middle school, are getting a jump on their college education. Gohil completed two summer internships at George Mason University in the School of Systems Biology, and Adhikari wanted to explore her growing interest in statistics. She initially reached out to Jonathan Auerbach, assistant professor in the Department of Statistics, to add her expertise to an ongoing study to survey the quality of apples in the Washington, D.C. area. She completed her statistics research at Mason over the summer, and received some guidance from Auerbach for the op-ed.  

Kuber Gohil

“Adhikari and Gohil’s work demonstrate that statistical reasoning is an important life skill—even for students in high school,” said Auerbach. “They were able to use statistics to effectively advocate that the contributions made by high school students deserve recognition.”  

The full op-ed is below: 

The Untold Pandemic Story: High School Students Behind Test Scores  

Rashi Adhikari and Kuber Gohil 

Test scores plunged during the pandemic, erasing more than a decade of progress in math according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Nation’s Report Card. Politicians have been quick to point fingers. Most recently, presidential candidates in the first Republican debate blamed everything under the sun, from remote learning to single parents to critical race theory.  

We are two high school students who believe the blame game, while perhaps effective in politics, ignores a crucial fact. Students stepped up in a major way during the pandemic, and it’s time those contributions are recognized.  

To appreciate just how much students helped, we considered the amount of time high-school-aged students spent caring for both household and non-household members each day—just one of many ways we pitched in. That time increased by an average of 6.5 minutes according to the American Time Use Survey, from 44.5 minutes in the years before the pandemic to 51 minutes during the pandemic. An average of 6.5 minutes might not sound like much, but those minutes add up to roughly 650 million hours from 16.45 million high-school aged students over the course of a year.  

That’s more than $4.7 billion in labor if our time were valued at $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage—nearly $9.8 billion if the minimum wage were the $15 an hour that most Americans support.  

Compare that to the $122 billion in aid secured for schools by the Biden administration under the American Rescue Plan. Of that $122 billion, $24 billion (20 percent) must be spent addressing “learning loss.” Let’s assume an equal amount is to be spent on each grade so that at least $8 billion is spent on high school students. But that’s the value of the additional work we took on caring for others during the pandemic—just one of many ways we pitched in.  

It is important to note that the average time spent caring for others was not evenly distributed among all students. Students who identify as Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black reported the largest increases on average, while non-Hispanic White students reported a decrease on average. It is no wonder the achievement gap widened as well.  

We ask that schools consider this and other contributions we made during the pandemic as the semester begins and schools search for ways to address declining test scores. Math is of course an important life skill, but so is caring for others. So while we may be behind in math, in other ways we are ahead, even if it can’t be measured by a test. 

We also expect politicians will use the falling test scores and the funds provided under the American Rescue Plan to score political points as we approach the presidential election. We would like to remind you adults that many of us who attended high school during the pandemic will be following the election and voting for the first time. We ask that you recognize that we too pitched in during the pandemic, in ways the funds dedicated to "learning loss" in the American Rescue Plan does not even begin to compensate. And if you don’t see that, maybe it’s the adults that have fallen behind on math.