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COVID & School Recovery: Washington Hopes New Science Curriculum Will Boost Student Engagement

Cross-country updates on how states & schools are confronting challenges posed by COVID-19 and its variants — and working to preserve student progress

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Emerging data from 2021-22 statewide summative assessments are bringing the current state of student progress into focus — spotlighting both how deeply the pandemic impacted learning and, in some places, where schools have been able to help students begin to rebound, K-12 Dive reports.

In states like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Virginia, student test scores are climbing back toward their pre-pandemic levels, encouraging those who feel progress being made and worrying many who still see teaching and learning severely depressed by the impacts of closures. 

However, in Los Angeles, student scores show deep learning loss in both ELA and math, in which fewer than a third of students are now proficient. Districts in Connecticut are reporting scores “plummeting” in every subject, for every grade. And while New Mexico rolls out a new, “teacher-developed” assessment that makes it difficult to compare new scores to pre-pandemic years, state results show just about a quarter of students scoring proficiently in any given grade or subject. 

The results come as national tests and data  — like the NAEP exam and data gleaned by nonprofit assessment maker NWEA — seemingly confirm the severity of the pandemic’s impact and underscore the need for schools and districts to wisely invest available recovery dollars.

Looking beyond assessments, here are nine other updates from across the country about how states and school systems are confronting the challenges posed by COVID-19 and its variants — and working to preserve student progress amid the pandemic:

WASHINGTON — Hungry for More Student Interest, WA Teachers Test a Free Science Curriculum

The lack of high-quality, engaging, and affordable science curriculum has made it difficult for many states to reach their goals of incorporating and implementing rigorous science instruction aligned to Next Generation Science Standards, experts and teachers tell the Seattle Times. But OpenSciEd, an openly developed and freely available curriculum, could be a game-changer as schools and districts reenergize their focus on science instruction and offerings. Washington is one of at least 10 states encouraging educators to pilot the OpenSciEd materials. This represents a departure from science instruction based on lectures and student memorization of information and toward student-centered exploration, investigation, and discussion. 

TEXAS & TENNESSEE — 2 States Get Tutoring Right, and Model How to Expand it Nationwide

States like Tennessee and Texas have taken the initiative to close achievement gaps, particularly in math, and get students back on track by implementing high-dosage tutoring programs and partnering with Zearn, a top-rated, open-source math learning platform. And though tutoring has risen as a top, evidence-based strategy to accelerate learning, Zearn co-founder and CEO Shalinee Sharma underscores the need for states to support schools, districts, and their teachers by properly vetting tutoring providers, ensuring the availability of aligned and high-quality training, and navigating challenges associated with staffing and scheduling. 

FLORIDA — Only 48% of 5th Graders Passed the State’s Science Exam; Fewer Than a Quarter Were ‘Proficient’

Recent statewide science exam results show a 1 percent increase from 2021 scores and a 3-7 percent decrease from 2012-2019 with 48 percent of Florida fifth-graders passing the 2022 exam, based on a score of 3 or higher. “That means some 5th graders struggling in science are headed into middle schools, where science courses can get harder,” author Danielle J. Brown noted. 

WISCONSIN — Evers Unveils Proposed $2B Boost to K-12 Schools

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers recently proposed new K-12 education spending of nearly $2 billion for the 2023-25 state budget. If passed, the additional funds would be invested into literacy-related programs, student mental health aid, and free lunch programs for all students. “After a tough past few years, we know our kids and our families and schools need our help now more than ever to get caught up and to get more educators and staff into our classrooms, and ensure every kid has the support and resources that they need to be successful,” Evers said.

GEORGIA — State’s GEER Funds Confront COVID-19 Learning Loss

Gov. Brian Kemp announced over $37.4 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds will be awarded to various community and public organizations supporting learning recovery around the state. Organizations included the Georgia Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs, Georgia Alliance of YMCAs, and Georgia Department of Education, along with many others. “We know there is still more work to do when it comes to recovering from pandemic-driven learning loss in our classrooms,” Kemp said. “That’s why I’m thankful to know that these additional funds — on top of the historic investments we’ve made in K-12 education — will both put students first and help set them on a renewed path of learning success.” The funds are intended to support programs that have been launched in partnership with schools, like community-based tutoring, summer and after-school initiatives, and expanded services for students with special needs.

CALIFORNIA — State May Become 20th State to Mandate Kindergarten

A bill awaiting signature by California Gov. Gavin Newsom would make the Golden State the 20th to require all students to attend kindergarten, beginning in the 2024-25 school year. Proponents of the bill in the California State Legislature cite research showing strong positive links between early childhood education programs and quality of life indicators, like income, teen pregnancy, and higher education attainment. Alberto M. Carvalho, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, penned a piece in support of the legislation. (Update: Gov. Newsom just vetoed the legislation)

INDIANA — New Grant Helps $111 Million Early Literacy Investment

To combat flagging literacy rates, the state of Indiana and Lilly Endowment Inc. have invested $111 million to support early literacy development using proven teaching techniques that align with the “science of reading,” a collection of research-based strategies that focus on building skill in phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. “I believe this funding will not only better prepare our students for a successful life, but will benefit the teaching profession by offering stipends to those who choose to participate in professional development and providing future educators additional instruction on Science of Reading methods,” shared Jeff Raatz, chair of the Senate Committee on Education and Career Development.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — D.C. Schools Roll Out Program to Improve Student Reading Levels

A new D.C. Public Schools effort called DCPS Readers Next Door is launching in the district this school year, the latest program in a years-long effort by District school officials to improve reading instruction and grow literacy rates. Featuring decodable texts and curriculum aligned to the “science of reading,” the program also lifts up lessons and texts from D.C. authors and educators. The new resources come as the first standardized test scores since the onset of the pandemic shine a light on how deeply learning was impacted by COVID-19 and school closures. This year, 36% of D.C. students scored proficient in reading, a 4% decline since pre-pandemic levels. 

NEBRASKA — Newly Approved Math Standards Put Greater Emphasis on Data, Statistics

In response to a statewide dip in math proficiency, members of the Nebraska State Board of Education approved a standards revision that puts extra emphasis on data and statistics. According to state law, districts must adopt the standards or their own set of standards on par with rigor within a year. Cory Epler, the department’s chief academic officer, said he expects districts to use federal relief funds to purchase high-quality math curriculum. “Adopting standards is not enough by itself to raise proficiency. Quality instruction is important as well,” he said.

This update on pandemic recovery in education collects and shares news updates from the district, state, and national levels as all stakeholders continue to work on developing safe, innovative plans to resume schooling and address learning loss. It’s an offshoot of the Collaborative for Student Success’ QuickSheet newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

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