ALABAMA (WHNT) — Recent data shows that middle and high school students across the State of Alabama have fallen behind due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s no mistake that the pandemic caused the largest disruption to the education system in history. Students were sent home to learn as schools closed their doors. Educators in Alabama worry that the impact may be felt for years to come. 

After months of compiling research on learning loss, Sally Smith, director of the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB), says that the goal is to now define the challenges that students are facing in both reading and mathematics and look closely at the learning gaps that were greatly exposed caused by the pandemic.

“Yes, there was a learning loss, absolutely, but it has varied dramatically across the state,” said Smith.

The social and emotional toll of COVID-19 can’t be understated, especially when it comes to students of color in rural parts of north Alabama. Even before the pandemic began, loss played a role in learning. 

“As we look at our students of color, our Black and brown students and those living in poverty, the difference between the amount of learning they lost over an academic year through COVID was the difference between six to eight months of schooling,” explained Rey Saldana, the chief executive officer of Communities in Education. “That means six to eight months of instruction around math and reading.”

Studies have shown that some students were more suited for virtual learning than others. 

“Not everybody was well equipped, particularly in areas of the state where there was not a lot of broadband or access to the Internet,” Smith told News 19. “That was one of the things that we found in our state that there were disparities.”

For this academic year, Alabama has received millions in federal funding for education.

“We know we’ve always had learning gaps in Alabama so this is a great opportunity to use these funds and see what works so we can continue to employ these efforts in the future,” said Smith.

Alabama was also awarded an additional $38 million to help educate students throughout the state with disabilities.