Educating Through COVID: From a New Rhode Island Law That Would Require Measuring Learning Loss to Chicago Confronting Low Student Vaccination Rates, 9 Ways States Are Confronting the Crisis

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Last week, the Collaborative for Student Success released K-12 recovery briefs detailing state visions and strategies for spending federal COVID-19 relief aid in North Dakota, Kentucky, Arizona, and Tennessee. The deep dives feature insight and input directly from state education agencies and superintendents around how the state has incentivized and encouraged districts and schools to target its funding to address lost learning and make sustainable investments in transforming instruction. 

“We urged our schools and districts to approach their federal funds wisely and with sustainability in mind,” said North Dakota Superintendent Kirsten Baesler. “We encouraged them to spend about one-third on meeting immediate needs, one-third on innovation and implementing new ideas, and a one-third on keeping what works going.” The briefs feature specifics about “big-bet” programs in the states that could lead to generational advances in areas like tutoring, teacher training, and summer learning programming. Check out EduRecoveryHub to learn more. 

Elsewhere, districts across the nation are experiencing declines in the number of students getting referred for evaluation for special education services. The shift heightens concerns that students with the greatest need are less likely to receive the help they need emerging from the pandemic. From Denver to Chicago to New York City, Chalkbeat reports that referrals for special education services fell by nearly a third after the onset of the pandemic and have failed to rebound as schools approach the end of the second year in pandemic schooling. “We don’t want to leave a child behind if they need those [special education] services,” said Julie Rottier-Lukens, director of special education for the 90,000-student Denver Public Schools. “And yet we don’t want to make presumptions based on what we’re seeing in front of us right now and discount that kids have been through a lot.”

Looking beyond relief funds and special education, 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:

1 RHODE ISLAND – State Lawmaker Pushes to Require Measurement of Student Learning Loss

Rep. Julie Casimiro of Rhode Island has introduced a bill aimed at measuring learning loss after concern from local parents about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student achievement. “If we don’t address it as the adults in the room, it’s not going to get addressed. It’s not going to get fixed,” Casimiro said. The legislation would create a commission to figure out how to best measure the pandemic’s impact in school districts across the state – and then come up with individualized plans to address it.

2 ILLINOIS – Chicago Public Schools Consider New Vaccine Strategies as Rates Dip for Younger Children

Chicago Public Schools says it continues to explore ways to improve access to vaccines and vaccine uptake after the district reported a sharp drop in the rate of vaccination for 5- to 11-year-olds three months after Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine received authorization from the federal government. At the time of reporting, fewer than a quarter of Chicago Public School students aged 5-11 were fully vaccinated — with rates especially lagging in schools on Chicago’s South and West Side.

3 MICHIGAN – Data Confirms Extent of Student Learning Loss

Michigan state education officials are reporting marked declines in student proficiency during the pandemic, with the percentage of students scoring proficient on statewide assessments falling anywhere from 3-6 percentage points. A recent Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) report also found schools that kept students in the class year-round fared better than districts that relied more heavily on virtual learning. The data comes as Michigan schools continue to face difficulties fully getting students back into classrooms and as state teachers unions urge leaders to relax attendance requirements for students in the face of continuing virus outbreaks, staffing shortages, and poor weather conditions.

4 NORTH DAKOTA – Districts Struggle to Find Substitute Teachers

North Dakota school districts are having difficulty finding substitute teachers as people are less willing or less interested in taking on the responsibilities of being a substitute teacher, said Rob Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools. “As our pool of substitute teachers continues to get smaller, the need is spread then really thin,” he said. The shortage of substitute teachers is not a new issue, said Rebecca Pitkin, executive director of the North Dakota Education Standards and Practices Board. She said the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to the need for substitute teachers.

5 OREGON – Districts Estimate Continued Enrollment Declines, Brace for Budget Cuts

Portland Public Schools officials are predicting a two-year drop in enrollment of nearly 7,000 students — resulting in potential budget and staffing cuts. “While we are forecasting fewer dollars to operate schools generally as a result of declining student enrollment, we are also grateful to have targeted state and one-time federal investments to limit the impact of this enrollment change school districts all across Oregon are facing,” said Guadalupe Guerrero, Superintendent of Portland Public Schools. 

6 ARIZONA – Families Eye Private Tutoring Options as Pandemic Learning Disruption Draws On

Parents are turning to private tutoring to help their kids catch up after struggling to keep up with online learning during the pandemic. Natanya Washburn, a Phoenix resident, says all four of her children are still feeling the impact of online learning that began in March 2020, especially her daughter, who is in high school and has special needs. Online tutoring platforms like Varsity Tutors report a huge increase in the number of customers in the Phoenix area, stating demand for STEM tutors is up 62% compared to last year.

7 NEW YORK – Defying National Trends, New York’s Graduation Rate Inches Up During Pandemic

Graduation rates across New York City and large parts of the state rose last year, defying national trends of flagging grad rates as the pandemic disrupted schooling. New York City’s rate inched upwards by two percentage points to 81%, while the statewide average climbed a single percentage point to 86%. City officials additionally noted that a record number of high school seniors received waivers of typically required Regents exams – 44,545 in 2021 compared to 8,000 in 2020. Statewide, 82% of seniors were granted an exemption from Regents exams last year. 

8 MISSOURI – State Among the Last to Approve Federal Funding Allocations

The Missouri legislature is still working to approve the allocation and distribution of more than $1.96 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funding targeted to K-12 schools and districts. Facing a March 24 deadline to allocate the funding, Missouri is among the last states in the nation to approve the distributions that will be based on school and district spending plans submitted to state officials. Once approved, the funding will need to be spent before September 2024 – a deadline shared with schools across the nation. 

9 COLORADO – Leaders Debate Changes to Teacher Evals As COVID Policies Shift, Universal Pre-K Begins

A bill being considered by the Colorado legislature would overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system by reducing the weight of student academic growth in a teacher’s evaluation, providing increased training for evaluators, and boosting teacher professional development. “The goal has always been to help develop and support excellent teachers,” said Jen Walmer, state director for Democrats for Education Reform. “The time is now to help streamline the system, make it less burdensome, restart the evaluation system, and set up the evaluation system to really help teachers grow.” The bill comes as the state prepares to launch a universal free preschool program and as state leaders prepare the way for schools to treat COVID “like a routine disease,” a move some believe will allow schools to place the bulk of school disruptions in the rearview mirror. 

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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