County releases report on education during the COVID-19 pandemic

By the Santa Barbara County grand jury

Responding to citizen concerns and inquiries, the Santa Barbara County grand jury launched a full investigation and review of the impact of remote learning on academic performance and social-emotional well-being with specific focus on students in grades K-8.

Collectively, the educational system in Santa Barbara County, both public and private, has never been faced with having to create entirely new teaching methods, managing the absence of social and emotional interaction & growth of the students and the far-reaching impact on educators and parents alike.

In general, the grand jury has found that all districts, in concert with guidance from the Santa Barbara County Education Office, did a noteworthy job to make remote learning as effective as possible.

Overall, however, remote learning, specifically in math and English language arts (ELA) was not as effective as in-person instruction and resulted in learning as well as social-emotional deficits for many students. Academically, the most severely affected students were those already underperforming prior to the pandemic.

The K-8 period, while a critical period for foundational academic learning, is even more crucial to social-emotional growth. Academic performance is measurable on a comparable basis between historical norms and the 2020-21 school year. But the social-emotional effects of remote schooling will require continuing, careful and diligent investigation.

For some students, an even greater toll resulted when problems within the home went undetected due to teachers not seeing students in person. With these issues in mind, the districts have outlined programs they will implement to mitigate the learning and social-emotional losses, beginning with the 2021-22 school year. An immediate goal for all districts at the start of this school year is to focus on the emotional status of students: Schools will be using counselors, psychologists and special programs to address issues that may present themselves.

Regarding learning loss, the grand jury notes that it will be a few years before academic performance can be fully evaluated. One standard county-wide assessment is needed at the end of the 2021-22 school year to give a solid benchmark upon which to measure yearly performance. All students, but especially those who are underperforming, require county-wide initiatives such as smaller class sizes, more one-on-one instruction and targeted testing to improve results in math and ELA. From a historical county financial perspective all these initiatives have unanticipated costs associated with them, which will need to be included in future budgets, once COVID-19 relief funds have ended.   

The complete report with agency responses are posted on the grand jury’s website: