We knew that COVID-19 was going to have a terrible impact on students, and now that the data are in, it’s worse than we thought it would be.

At least 30% of Dallas ISD students have “lost learning” in reading since the outbreak. And half have lost learning in math. The impact is most severe on Black and Hispanic students, according to DISD data.

That isn’t surprising given that those students often have far fewer resources at home to plug the learning gaps created by the online environment.

And the steeper falloff in math is hardly unexpected given the fact that math skills must be built year-over-year vs. reading, where so much of the learning happens in the earliest years.

The goal for DISD, and really all districts that are seeing similar falloff, will be to arrest the learning slide and begin to return students to grade level.

We have advocated before for the district to offer enhanced summer learning programs that target the subject areas where kids are falling off.

DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa speaks to the media about starting the school year virtually during a press conference at Dallas ISD headquarters in Dallas on Thursday, August 20, 2020. Among other measures, voters approved $270 million in bonds for technology and connectivity this week. (Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News)

The district’s proposal to investigate and develop better online learning programs is also critical. Every parent of an online student now understands how hard it is to make sure children are keeping up with their work. Teachers have been heroic in following up, but the reality is that synchronous online learning needs improvement to ensure children remain engaged and productive.

The news about our children falling behind is bad. But there is some comfort in knowing that DISD is facing the facts and not waiting until the end of the year to assess the falloff. The more assessment we have, and the earlier we have it, the better the district will be able to design summer instruction programs to help.

There is some parental resistance to that plan, and we are sorry to say that much of it is issuing from schools with wealthier student populations. Those parents in opposition must realize that while their children have options for enhanced learning, many lower income students do not. Permitting an achievement gap to widen would be a mistake. Creating programs to address the gap that would be available to all students is the right approach.

Meanwhile, if one silver lining did emerge in this otherwise bleak information, it’s this: The value of pre-kindergarten is becoming ever more clear.

Students who attended pre-K substantially outperformed those who didn’t across a host of categories. That not only includes reading, vocabulary and math, but also social and emotional well being. In other words, the COVID-19 setback was had a lower impact on children who attended pre-kindergarten.

That is a reminder of what an important community goal it is to get young people enrolled in free pre-K to begin their learning journey earlier.

As for all of those students who have fallen behind, help must be on the way, and we are confident it will be, thanks to early detection and ongoing strategy.