New Data Shows What Schools Must Do For Kids Far Behind in Reading and Math

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About 58% of the students we looked at in K-8 are about 1 to 3 years behind in reading. About 68% of students are 1 to 3 years behind in math. And this is cause for concern. That’s a pretty big percentage.

That’s Janellen Duffy, senior advisor at JerseyCAN, the non-profit devoted to high-quality schools and continuous support for all students. (During the last two years of COVID-disrupted education, JerseyCAN has performed the function in loco parentis for a chronically-absent state Department of Education.) Duffy’s remarks are relevant to a new national survey from Rand of 291 district leaders, revealing that “districts continue to struggle with how to manage teacher shortages, political polarization in schools, student and staff mental health concerns, and pandemic-related student learning loss.”

In addition, NWEA released a report yesterday that shows “some evidence of rebounding for the students who have been the hardest hit.” However, “achievement disparities remain wider in spring 2022 than prior to the start of the pandemic, and notably, if trends in gains remain constant, recovery timelines extend past spending deadlines for federal recovery funds.” Results from a similar test called i-Ready finds for second grade math 52% of students were on grade level at the end of last year, up from 49% the year before but far short of the pre-pandemic benchmark of 61%. “We do see some good news here in terms of the upticks,” said Kristen Huff, vice president of assessment and research at Curriculum Associates, which produces the i-Ready. “But overall the students are still falling behind pre-pandemic performance.”

The authors of the report from Rand, Melissa Kay Dilberti and Heather L. Schwartz, recommend steps all districts should take to address these challenges and mitigate learning loss. Here is summary of their findings and recommendations.

Key Findings

  • Ninety percent of school districts changed operations in one or more of their schools at some point in the 2021–2022 school year because of teacher shortages.
  • The typical district has increased substitute teachers’ daily pay 6 percent above prepandemic levels, after adjusting for inflation.
  • More than three-quarters of districts have increased their number of teaching and nonteaching staff above prepandemic levels.
  • Roughly half of district leaders see a fiscal cliff looming after coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) federal aid expires, and they are trying to prepare for it.
  • As in fall 2021, district leaders had high levels of concern about student and staff mental health, and about half were concerned that political polarization about critical race theory was interfering with schooling.
  • Most districts have converged on the same interventions for student learning loss: summer programs, mental health services, tutoring, and social and emotional learning instruction.

Recommendations

  • To address unfinished instruction, districts should identify the extent of the learning gaps for different subsets of their students to figure out where to target the most-intensive responses. Districts should then invest time and resources into effectively implementing the academic interventions they have already adopted, such as tutoring, summer learning, and SEL.
  • Professional associations of districts, regional education service centers, and state education agencies can play an important role in creating forums for district leaders to disseminate their valuable knowledge with peers working in similar contexts.
  • Superintendents should rally their mayors, representatives of local hospital and health care systems, and legislators to discuss and implement a coordinated set of mental health services for their students and staff.
  • State education agencies should seek to get out ahead of a fiscal cliff by working with districts to closely examine finances, staff levels, and enrollment projections to understand which districts have the greatest risk of facing a fiscal cliff and work to minimize or avoid such risk.
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