Education Through a Pandemic: From Kentucky Offering a ‘Do-Over’ School Year to Massachusetts Waiving Graduation Tests for Class of 2022, 9 Ways States Are Confronting COVID Learning Loss

This update on the COVID Slide 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’ COVID Slide Quick Sheet newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

President Joe Biden is continuing his push for big, bold investments across many areas of American life and society, building on the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan with a beefed up federal budget proposal, a swiftly materializing infrastructure plan, and a proposal to expand child care and community college titled the American Families Plan.

Biden’s suggested budget would see a nearly 41 percent increase in federal education funding next year, a number that could help prevent funding cliffs as schools steadily use reserves of relief dollars over the next five years and that would bolster services like special education, summer learning programs, and expanded Pell grants for students headed to college.

The administration’s evolving infrastructure plan, which is estimated to exceed $2 trillion in cost, would also see money flow into school buildings for replacing lead pipes and outdated air and heating systems. Taken together, the plans signify “a commitment to address systemically some of the issues that have existed in our system for many, many years,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Beyond new federal funding, here are nine updates from across the country about how states and school systems are confronting the challenges posed by the coronavirus emergency — and working to preserve student learning amid the pandemic:

1 KENTUCKY – Districts Gauge Family, Student Interest in Supplemental ‘Do-Over’ School Year

Recently passed Senate Bill 128, also known as the “Red Shirt Bill,” would allow public high school students enrolled in Kentucky to request to use the upcoming 2021-2022 school year as a supplemental year focused on retaking and mastering already completed coursework. The legislation necessitates that each district’s board of education would need to approve the bill and the board would evaluate applications from those who wish for a supplemental year. Families would need to submit their requests by May 1 and the board would have until June 1 to approve or reject them.

2MASSACHUSETTS – State Amends Graduation Requirements For Class of 2022, Excluding MCAS Test

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has approved modifications to competency requirements for next year’s graduating class. The Class of 2022 will not be required to take and pass MCAS exams to graduate. The move follows two years of graduation requirements being suspended due to the pandemic and represents a data point in a continued national discussion about the role of “high-stakes” linked to test performance.

3TEXAS – Dallas Chamber Endorses Using Assessment Data to Accelerate Learning

The Dallas Region Chamber of Commerce penned a compelling statement in support of the state’s administration of the STAAR assessment, saying “Understanding the impact on learning, while challenging, is a necessary step toward accelerating academic recovery and preparing all students for college and career success.” The DRC cites the use of student assessment data to guide critical investments and improvements across Dallas public schools for over a decade. It also urges school, district, and state leaders to stand by the data-driven approach through pandemic recovery.

4FLORIDA – Commissioner Urges Districts to Make Masks Voluntary Next School Year

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has sent a request to each superintendent in the state asking school districts to make mandatory face mask policies voluntary next school year. “The data shows us that districts’ face covering policies do not impact the spread of the virus,” Corcoran wrote. He also said that these policies inhibit peer-to-peer learning in the classroom, although not everyone agrees. A Marion County Public Schools spokesman said the face covering resolution will remain in place if safe social distancing is not possible, while a spokesman for Seminole County Public Schools committed to district leaders discussing the memo further.

5PENNSYLVANIA – Philadelphia Mayor Centers Education Investments in COVID Recovery

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is spotlighting education funding in his plans for the city’s pandemic recovery, detailing a long list of investments in the city’s schools in a speech unveiling his $5.2 billion school budget proposal. Kenney pledged to invest in a scholarship program for underrepresented youth to attend college tuition-free, expand community schools, and bolster case worker services for individual schools.

6NEW YORK – Expansion of Early Childhood Programs Brings Assistance to NYC Families

The nation’s largest public school system has witnessed a dramatic rise in mental health needs amid the coronavirus pandemic. In response, the New York education department will launch a training program for parents, paying them $500 to become “wellness ambassadors” within their school communities. The plan will pay parent leaders from nearly 950 schools in the neighborhoods most affected by the coronavirus. The mental health initiative is being launched as nearly 51,000 NYC students return to in-person learning starting April 26.

7MISSOURI – State Using Data Dashboard to Improve Teacher Recruitment Policies

Schools and districts should use data to track and address challenges in teacher recruitment and retention, said a panel of experts on a webinar hosted by the Institute of Education Sciences and Regional Educational Laboratory. The panel spotlighted the approach by Missouri education officials, who created a dashboard to overlay student enrollment and teacher assignment data to identify areas of high need or challenge for teachers. The panel concluded that data could be a powerful tool in meeting teacher needs after the pandemic and, over time, increasing the appeal of the profession.

8VERMONT – Schools Strategize Use of $500 Million in Federal Relief Funds

School and district leaders in Vermont are continuing to work to develop plans to effectively invest hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into school budgets as a result of three rounds of federal stimulus legislation. Jill Briggs Campbell, COVID-19 federal emergency management funds manager for the state education agency, said “Everyone’s sort of recognizing that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.” As defined by federal relief legislation, the school funding can be used widely, including on special education services, summer learning programs, mental health supports, and building infrastructure.

9WEST VIRGINIA – State Education Officials Urge Participation in Statewide Testing This Spring

West Virginia education officials are encouraging students and families to participate in statewide annual testing this spring, detailing measures taken to test students safely and effectively – and to use resulting data to inform pandemic recovery. In a letter to parents, State Superintendent Clayton Burch wrote, “Although counties and schools continue to deal with challenges, it is even more critical this year that we obtain data on each of our students to further measure how much impact the pandemic has had on student learning.”

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