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Educating Amid COVID: From Michigan’s Test Scores Showing Eroding Student Performance to the Hurricanes Hampering Louisiana’s Pandemic Recovery, 9 Ways States Are Confronting the Crisis

By Joshua Parrish | September 22, 2021

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Two key national updates this week, on education priorities inside the federal government:

—Community Schools: A “full court press is underway from the White House, states and education officials” to expand interest and investment in the so-called ‘community schools’ model, writes Lauren Camera U.S. News and World Report.

The community school model typically positions schools as hubs of their surrounding communities and seeks to build out school functions to address community needs like basic healthcare, food distribution, housing insecurity, and even clothing or job needs. Camera documents growing interest in the model to address critical student and family needs that only became more acute during the pandemic. Only 6-8% of schools in the U.S. are community schools, though President Joe Biden hopes to significantly increase this number using a significant expansion of funding for community schools, which is proposed in his budget proposal under consideration by Congress.

—Learning Recovery: A new resource out from the Education Department seeks to assist schools in directing their American Rescue Plan relief funding toward investments that are likely to drive instruction and improve student outcomes, particularly in the context of accelerating learning in the face of pandemic disruption. The document includes examples of specific district programs levied to address common concerns, like literacy — addressed and exemplified by Tennessee’s Shelby County — expanding tutoring programs, and procuring high-quality instructional materials.

Beyond issues of relief funds and community schools, here are eight other updates from across the country about how states and school systems are confronting the challenges posed by the pandemic and the Delta variant — and working to preserve student learning amid the pandemic:

1 MICHIGAN — State Test Scores Show Sharp Decline in Student Performance, as Participation Rate Plummets

Michigan officials have released results from the most recent administration of statewide, summative tests, which represent the first time students were tested across the state since the spring of 2019. As expected, scores depicted declines in math and English language arts performance by up to 8 percentage points. In a statement sharing the results, the Michigan Department of Education said scores should be reviewed and compared with caution, as participation rates fell to between 64-72%. “Results from the state summative assessments and the local benchmark assessments show that some students were able to make relatively normal gains, while many others will be working with their teachers to accelerate their learning to catch up to where they otherwise would have been in the absence of the pandemic. In Michigan and across the country, we have our work cut out for us,” said State Superintendent Michael Rice.

2 TENNESSEE – Ed Chief Approves Temporary Virtual Learning Waivers Amid Quarantines

In response to a sharp increase in transmission of COVID-19 in Tennessee as schools opened up for the new school year, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn announced that individual classrooms and schools would be allowed to apply for waivers to temporarily transition to online learning when exposed to the virus or if a student or staff member tests positive. While Schwinn described the approach as a “scalpel,” some community and health advocates say the state should require schools and districts to develop continuous learning plans, as they were obliged to do last school year. “We see the data, this COVID surge is horrible in Tennessee — the state must recognize that systems will have to close due to the delta variant, not just individual schools,” said Danette Stoke, a second-grade teacher and president of Shelby County UEA.

3 HAWAII – State Education Officials Release Public Data Dashboard on COVID-19 Spread

The Hawaii Department of Education has made a new addition to its website — a dashboard that shows the number of COVID-19 cases in its schools and department offices. Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi announced that the dashboard was established with parents top of mind. The dashboard includes “probable case information” spanning “state, district, complex area and school levels.” Hayashi is encouraging people to monitor the dashboard to see “that schools are not amplifiers of COVID-19 transmission because of the mitigation protocols schools are enforcing.”

4CALIFORNIA – Los Angeles Moves Forward With Weekly COVID-19 Testing for All

The Los Angeles public school system is facing what The Washington Post calls “a massive public health experiment unfolding in real time.” Students, staff, and administrators must get weekly COVID-19 tests, in addition to universal masking mandates and staff vaccine requirements. Despite implementing “the most aggressive anti-coronavirus campaign undertaken or announced by a major school district,” the district has seen the vast majority of students and families eager to return to school, with only roughly 3% opting for independent study options at the beginning of the school year.

5 LOUISIANA – COVID-19 Extending Disrupted Learning Due to Hurricane Ida

According to officials, New Orleans public schools “suffered little to no damage from Hurricane Ida” and most campuses announced plans to reopen as soon as power returned. Despite the minimal damage, however, New Orleans schools are still concerned about COVID cases following the storm, as staff and students make their way back to school. New Orleans Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. stated, “We have to be honest in this moment … We had a very high peak [in cases before the storm] and we’re not sure what will happen when we come back.”

6 CONNECTICUT – State Recovery Spending Plan Approved by Feds

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced recent approval of Connecticut’s plan for the “latest round of $1.1 billion federal dollars” in public school relief funding. The state has established five categories for its plan, which include: “learning and enrichment, family and community connections, student and teacher social-emotional and mental health, education technology, and building safe and healthy schools.”

7 KANSAS – State Applauds Record High Graduation Rate

Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson praised the state’s graduation rates this past week, announcing that graduation rates have reached their highest percentage recorded in the state at 88.3% in 2020. Despite the lauded accomplishment, Watson told reporters that believes there is more progress to be made. Breaking down the graduation rate, Kansas found that the graduation among students with disabilities rose 3.1 percentage points and among English learners increased 6.5 percentage points.

8 WEST VIRGINIA – Cardona Applauds West Virginia’s School Vaccination Efforts

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona praised West Virginia’s push to get teachers, students, and communities vaccinated this month, calling attention to the state’s propping up of community vaccine sites in all 55 of its counties. “And I’ll tell you, what you did in West Virginia to require the vaccination pop-up clinics – not only did you accept the call to action, you really elevated it and said, ‘We’re going to value this throughout the state of West Virginia.’ So thank you for your work on the ‘I Got Vaxxed Campaign,’” Cardona said in a statement directed toward Gov. James Justice and Superintendent W. Clayton Burch. Cardona’s praise comes as Justice publicly disagreed with recommendations by teachers unions in the state to pass vaccine and mask mandates.

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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