Students with disabilities, those learning English, and students who live in rural communities learn at the same rate during the school year – and often faster – than their non-disadvantaged peers, but they lose significantly more ground over the summer, according to new research from the nonprofit education policy and evaluation organization NWEA.
The finding bolsters calls from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for state education officials and school leaders to provide intensive summer learning programs to students who suffered the losses. the most important school years due to chronic interruptions to learning during the pandemic.
“Historically underserved students may progress academically at the same or faster rate than their peers during the school year,” says Lindsay Dworkin, vice president of policy and advocacy at NWEA. “Before this research, it was unclear what the school year versus summer growth trajectories were and where we were losing ground. This research sheds light on summer and the need to do better during the summer for these students.
While education policymakers and school districts have a strong understanding of the setbacks experienced by students of color, there is less research on how interruptions to learning have eclipsed academic outcomes for students with disabilities. those who are still learning English and students from rural communities.
The new NWEA research uses available data on the learning loss these groups of students experienced during the pre-pandemic summer break to extrapolate what the pandemic-related learning loss might look like for them. . Its researchers also analyzed the learning patterns of each subgroup of students to better understand where and when they are falling behind.
For example, in a study of K-8 students nationwide, rural students entered kindergarten with higher levels of achievement in math and reading than their non-rural peers. But by the end of the third year, non-rural students consistently outperformed those from rural communities at all levels. The report found that pupils in rural areas are progressing at a slightly faster rate in maths and reading than other pupils when school is in session – but they are losing more ground almost every summer.
For students with disabilities, a nationwide study of K-4 students shows they enter kindergarten behind their peers in reading and math, but progress at similar or higher rates to those of their peers during certain school years. The group’s biggest challenge is that they are losing more ground each summer, which has contributed to and aggravated the growing disparities in achievement.
Another research study focusing on the success and growth of K-4 English learners showed that they had lower test scores than their peers throughout their primary school years. , but also had similar or better academic growth. However, like students with disabilities, students who are still learning English tend to lose more ground over the summer than their peers who are not learning English.
Now, as a third year of pandemic schooling begins to wind down, school leaders, armed with hundreds of billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 aid, are stepping up plans to offer summer schools and tutoring programs with the aim of recovering some of those who learn losses.
“There are many resources out there,” says Dworkin. “And to the extent that money can solve the problem — and there are no easy answers — there are plenty of federal stimulus resources available to districts and states to leave no stone unturned to make that happen. possible.”
An early analysis of how school districts are spending federal bailout US aid from FutureEd, an education policy organization housed at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, shows that about 30% of the funding is dedicated to school resumption. According to the analysis, schools have spent more than $1.7 billion in one-time funding for tutoring and coaching, a sum that is expected to grow to $3.6 billion by the time federal aid expires. coronavirus education in 2024.
But a host of difficulties stand in the way of offering such services to students – even among the best-laid plans – including staff shortages, teacher burnout, transportation issues, and the voluntary nature of the programs that make it difficult to student registration.
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In Newark, for example, where about 45% of the district’s 38,000 children have a first language other than English, including 10% of K-12 students who don’t speak English well, according to federal data, and where 9% of students have a disability, the mid-year assessment results are alarming.
Education officials expect only 6% of students in grades three through seven to achieve proficiency on end-of-year math tests based on these mid-year assessments, up from 27 % who achieved proficiency before the pandemic in 2019. Students are watching a similar fate with reading, with 10% of students in grades one through seven expected to achieve proficiency.
Like many urban school districts with a growing population of English learners and students with disabilities, Newark is struggling to hire enough specialist teachers and still faces major disruptions, including last January, when the district was forced to switch to remote learning during the rise of the omicron variant. And according to district data, more than 35% of students were chronically absent in February — another pandemic-related setback many municipal school systems are facing.
With the $282 million Newark will receive in federal pandemic aid, education officials plan to expand summer school and tutoring programs and hire additional education specialists to work one-on-one with students, which Cardona asked all school districts to prioritize. But as it stands, Newark is making after-school tutoring and summer school optional — relying on students to join rather than incorporating them into the school year as a requirement for all the students.
Some education policy experts say that while the intention is good — and to some extent districts cannot enact such requirements due to staffing issues or union contracts — the voluntary nature of education programs academic enrichment means that many students will be absent.
A recent analysis of its after-school programs by Chalkbeat found that the district served only 3,800 elementary students per day, or about 16% of those children. And while some schools also offer one-to-one tutoring during the day, the analysis concluded that it was unclear whether the offer qualified as the “heavy-duty” tutoring that Cardona requested and research shows that it is the most effective – such as programs that include several small groups. sessions per week.
“This information demonstrates that our system is effective in educating our students during the school year, and it is a call to action for states and districts on how to target summer programming so that all students can excel. in school and beyond,” Deborah Delisle, CEO of All4Ed and former head of the education department during the Obama administration, says of the NWEA report. “Our children deserve nothing less.”
But even programs specifically designed for students with disabilities or those still learning English face adoption issues.
In New York, where former mayor Bill de Blasio earmarked $200 million in July for each school to establish a special education recovery program that offers after-school and Saturday services, including classes intensive and speech therapy and physiotherapy sessions, many schools did not get these programs up and running until December and some only lasted 10 weeks. Staffing issues and lack of bus transportation further crippled attendance.
While city officials said the programs are open to all of the city’s 192,000 students with disabilities, they also expect only 35% of them to participate.
What’s unclear — and concerning for school leaders based on early evidence from school systems like Newark and New York — is the impact and sustainability of the programs those dollars support.
A powerhouse of K-12 leaders and policy experts, led by former Tennessee education commissioner Kevin Huffman and former Chicago Public Schools chief executive Janice Jackson, announced earlier this week that they are closing in on their goal of raising $100 million to address this issue by scaling cost-effective yet impactful tutoring models that they hope to embed in schools over the long term.
“The evidence is clear,” Cardona said earlier this week. “High-impact tutoring works, and I have urged schools across our nation to provide every struggling student with expanded access to an effective tutor.”
“We must seize this moment to use federal relief funds to help students, including those most affected by the pandemic, close the gaps of opportunity and achievement that have widened further over the past two years,” he said.