Fernanda Davila speaks only Spanish at home. The 8-year-old elementary school student lives with her parents, immigrants from Mexico, and her two younger siblings.
But at school, Fernanda's classes are taught only in English under a law passed by voters in 2000. Because of the language gap, Fernanda already struggled to understand teachers, especially when learning math. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, learning via a computer made it even harder.
All students in Arizona faced challenges when schools closed during the pandemic. Learning switched from the classroom to online instruction via Zoom for more than a year from March 2020 until spring 2021.
Standardized test data reviewed by The Arizona Republic shows that students in English language learner programs, like Fernanda, fared the worst during the pandemic.
A main reason is that students who didn't speak English faced additional challenges learning remotely because of language barriers, experts say. Long-standing inequities also played a role, they say.
"The pandemic had a really significant impact on English language learners, and I don't think it's talked about enough," said Erin Hart, senior vice president and chief of policy at Education Forward Arizona. The nonprofit seeks to improve Arizona education through programs and advocacy.
What's more, parents of ELL students were often unable to help students with their schoolwork because they also didn't speak English. Parents who don't speak English had trouble communicating with teachers, creating even more barriers, Hart said.
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