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Education Through the Pandemic: From Hawaii’s Push For a Statewide Plan to Reverse Learning Loss to Kentucky’s Bid to Close State’s ‘Nutrition Gap,’ 8 Ways States & Educators Are Coping With COVID-19

By Joshua Parrish | February 1, 2021

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.

Several of the executive orders signed by President Joe Biden during his first days in office were meant to help launch the administration’s plan to reopen most of the nation’s schools in 100 days, a feat that will be heavily dependent on the success of ramped up vaccinations efforts.

Notably, Biden’s orders hinged on a “data-driven” strategy, both in the context of defeating COVID-19 and in helping schools navigate and overcome the fallout of a year of disruption. Indeed, the administration’s focus on data seemed so deliberate that Testing 1-2-3 author Dale Chu said the language could indicate coming decisions by Biden and Miguel Cardona, Biden’s pick to be Education secretary, on the issue of whether the federal government will move forward with enforcing annual federal testing requirements. “Although [the order] doesn’t call for state testing in so many words, it would be odd to talk about data collection in this manner and not follow through with annual assessments this year. Indeed, it would make little sense for the president to draw attention to the role data can play in the recovery only to have his Education secretary waive the federal testing requirement away.”

As states wait for more instruction from the Biden administration on spring testing, an increasing number of states are making clear their position — with some being proactive in planning for the spring assessment window and others requesting a second year of federal waivers. The push by Biden to reopen America’s schools comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is out with new finding that show schools have seen low transmission of the coronavirus – particularly when masks and distancing are adequately used.

Here are eight 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 HAWAII – Lawmakers Consider Strategies to Reverse COVID Learning Loss

Hawaii’s House Lower & Higher Education Committee are discussing how best to handle the learning loss that has occurred among public and charter school students statewide since the start of distance learning. Concerns are mounting following the release of new student performance data that shows thousands of students falling behind in multiple subjects and across grade levels. Among the ideas proposed by lawmakers: Efforts to scale one-on-one tutoring, citing innovative programs like Hawai’i Literacy, which has already begun to show results in supporting adult learners as they earn GED degrees.

2 TEXAS – Teachers Focus Limited Time With Students on the Fundamentals

With an eye on minimizing the severity of learning loss for students as schools continue online, San Antonio teachers have intentionally structured limited time with students to focus on a set of “clarified priorities” — topics required for mastery and to access grade-level material. For many students, this means their time with teachers focuses on foundation reading and math skills, while lessons in social studies or the sciences are increasingly being delivered via apps, online platforms, and similar tools. Educators report success with the approach, saying the ability for students to make up lost instructional time after the pandemic will depend on developing strong literacy and math skills.

3 KENTUCKY – DOE Seeks to Expand Summer Meal Program to Address ‘Nutrition Gap’

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is looking for schools and nonprofit organizations to help sponsor the Summer Food Service Program, which provides free meals to Kentucky children and teens in low-income areas during the summer. This program could likely see additional applicants in summer 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic may have increased food insecurity among families.

4 SOUTH CAROLINA – Educators, District Officials Find Lessons for Improvement in Early Testing Data

Educators and district leaders are analyzing the results of recent results from statewide Measure in Academic Progress testing, or MAP, that depicted expected declines in math and reading scores among South Carolina’s roughly 800,000 students. Despite the disappointing numbers, some expressed optimism that results seemed less severe than in other states and that these results could be unpacked by teachers to identify where students need the most support.

5 MISSISSIPPI – Statewide Tests to be Administered, Won’t Impact Student Grade Advancement

The Mississippi Department of Education has changed exam requirements for students in light of the ongoing pandemic. Third grade students will sit for reading, math, and exit exams but will no longer need to meet a certain score in order to advance to fourth grade. The changes will also apply to high school students, who will not need a certain score on final exams in order to graduate this school year.

6 MICHIGAN – Whitmer Bolsters Federal School Funding With State COVID Plan

As part of a $5.6 billion COVID-19 recovery plan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to send schools an additional $300 million in state funds on top of the already determined $1.7 billion in federal coronavirus relief. She claims the money will assist schools in offering an in-person learning option as soon as March 1. School groups strongly approve of her plan to provide schools with additional resources.

7 PENNSYLVANIA – Philadelphia Opens Centers to Provide Assessments, Evaluations to Students with Special Education Needs

Six centers were opened by the School District of Philadelphia so that educators can begin administering annual assessments and evaluations needed to develop students’ Individualized Education Plans, which determine what services students receive and ensure needs are being met appropriately. District officials say that a number of safety precautions will be in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and families who required transportation assistance were able to be accommodated.

8 MARYLAND – State Officials Consider Slate of Options to Help Kids Catch Up

Maryland state education officials are contemplating the most effective way to help students who have fallen behind due to extended remote learning. Maryland Deputy Superintendent Carol Williamson notes that initial data shows that students may need to catch up on three months to a year of lost learning once back in the classroom. Several suggestions under consideration include summer programs, adoption of new group learning formats, or extending or modifying the school year calendar.

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