From the virtual learning or hybrid model to the mental health of teachers and students, K-12 school districts have done the best they can in the face of unprecedented uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, as the second untraditional school year shows signs of looking up - thanks to the vaccine rollout, school reopenings, and the passage of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021 - educators must begin to address student learning losses, particularly in reading and math proficiency.
Reckoning with the aftermath of COVID-19 in education
Among the many ever-shifting challenges of the pandemic is the fact that students have spent much less time learning since March 2020 than in a typical year. David Soroka, principal of Global Outreach Charter Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, tells Teachers On Demand that the 100% virtual final quarter of the 2019-2020 school year left many students behind.
“Despite best efforts from the school, many students did not participate well or simply did not log in for school during this time, which essentially created a 5-month long summer for certain students. We always see a ‘summer slide,’ but this has been exacerbated by COVID-19,” Soroka says.
To measure student learning losses, Global Outreach Charter Academy has done diagnostic testing through iReady. They measure Window 1, 2, and 3 diagnostics during the beginning, middle, and end of the year.
Despite the data, widespread anxiety and burnout has prevented school superintendents and classroom teachers alike from addressing the COVID-19 aftermath even as schools reopen.
“For now,” K-5 educator Tiffany K. says of her New York City charter school, “we are continuing on as if nothing has changed, streaming lessons through Zoom during the day with double the paperwork. I wish I could say this differently, but nobody I know, including me, has free time to address the learning losses of the past year yet.”
This spring, the American Rescue Plan presents a renewed opportunity for districts to take charge and look to the future. The Plan designates $122 billion towards education, with the Department of Education vowing schools “will receive to support their efforts to reopen K-12 schools safely this month and equitably expand opportunity for students who need it most.”
How schools are addressing student learning losses
Speaking as part of an EduWeek Market Brief webinar, John Hutchinson, deputy superintendent for business and operations at Olathe School District in Kansas, said what schools do with the financial support “depends where you are on the technology spectrum.”
Some states, including Texas, Connecticut, and New Jersey, have made progress in narrowing the digital divide for low-income students who need electronic devices like laptops and tablets to keep up with online schooling. At least 50% of schools say they will continue these efforts using stimulus funds.
Others will devote resources towards closing the educational gap in English/language arts and math. Principal Soroka says that his Jacksonville school will “work hard to strengthen existing programs this summer to help our students who are struggling and left behind.” Hutchinson’s district will put their portion of funds from the American Rescue Plan into “instructional coaches, ELL supports, and the social emotional learning component.”
This is a big difference from earlier stimulus measures, which Olathe used “to jumpstart technological measures like hotspots” and buy personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. The district now plans to invest any remaining funds into fixed assets like heating and cooling upgrades.
Every school has different needs and priorities, and the American Rescue Plan gives them broad latitude to spend on both classroom and non-academic needs. Overall, the largest number of districts say they will put their funds towards student social and emotional learning needs, summer learning programs, and electronic devices.
Hope on the Horizon for Educators
Amidst schools’ enhanced capabilities to address student learning loss, a physical return to school provides an excellent opportunity to connect with students more effectively.
According to Principal Soroka, “The majority of students I have talked to express that it is much easier to stay focused, understand the material, and remain motivated when they are on campus [as opposed to online learning].”
As schools address learning losses, they will continue diagnostic testing to measure new gains. Soroka’s school is currently in the middle of Window 3 diagnostics, and they hope students will see improved results next year.
Whether you are reopening your classrooms or continuing with a hybrid/virtual model, many schools depend on Teachers On Demand for highly qualified, state-certified substitute teachers to help support their educators and student body. If your school can benefit while regrouping in the aftermath of COVID-19, don’t hesitate to reach out.