Despite ‘COVID Slide’ Concerns, Most Educators Oppose Extending Upcoming School Year to Stave Off Negative Effects, Survey Finds

Collaborative for Student Success

With school campuses closed nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, researchers have warned that students’ time away from the classroom could lead to disruptive learning loss — an anomaly dubbed the “COVID slide.” But most teachers oppose extending the upcoming academic year to confront academic setbacks, according to the results of a new survey.

Sixty-five percent of teachers and 54 percent of school administrators said they want to begin the upcoming academic year with normal schedules, according to results from a recent online survey conducted by the Collaborative for Student Success, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes school accountability efforts. Meanwhile, just 15 percent of teachers and 28 percent of administrators support the idea of extending the upcoming school year, according to the voluntary online survey, which more than 5,500 teachers, administrators and policymakers completed in mid-April.

Faced with the reality that the abrupt transition to remote learning could set back student learning, policymakers nationwide are considering ways to make up for lost time. For example, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that the upcoming academic year could begin earlier than normal, with students returning to classrooms by late July or early August. Faced with the prospect of widespread learning loss, he said, people can choose to simply “roll over and just accept” the reality, or they can “do something about it.”

Lawmakers who plan to “do something,” like extending the academic year, must do more to get teachers and school administrators on board, said Jim Cowen, the Collaborative’s executive director. The survey suggests that policymakers are “in for an uphill battle” when highlighting the urgency of learning loss and the need for “more aggressive options.”

One recent study on the “COVID slide,” released last month by the education research nonprofit NWEA, suggests that when students return to school next fall, they’ll likely retain about 70 percent of the current academic year’s reading gains compared with a typical school year. For math, the figure drops below 50 percent.

When asked about strategies to combat learning loss, 61 percent of administrators surveyed supported the idea of beginning classes next fall where they left off in April. Though the approach was the most popular among administrators, fewer than half of teachers agreed. Extending the next school year was the least-supported option among teachers. Administrators were least optimistic about giving students the opportunity to repeat a grade, with just 17 percent supporting.

Several factors could be driving educators’ desire for a return to normal next year, Cowen said. For one, they could be resistant to further disruption and uncertainty in their daily routines. They could also be accustomed to learning loss over typical summer vacations, he said.

“It’s almost like they’re saying, ‘Welcome to our world. You’re just noticing this, but we see it every year,’” he said.

But that doesn’t mean educators are resistant to understanding how the virus-induced campus closures affect students academically. Despite an anti-testing backlash in recent years, 59 percent of teachers and 71 percent of administrators said that schools should administer tests in the fall to gauge the campus closures’ effects on student performance. For such tests to be effective, Cowen said, they should be nonpunitive, brief and independent of states’ school accountability measures. As state policymakers consider the approach, Cowen said, it’s important that districts make test results available quickly so educators can determine what’s needed “to help kids get back to where they need to be.”

The Collaborative for Student Success and The 74 receive financial support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

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