How states can support ongoing academic recovery

This piece was originally published on EdNote, the Education Commission of the States’ blog.

School closures, quarantines and staffing uncertainties have contributed to the biggest math and reading declines our country has seen in more than two decades.  

The recent State of the American Student report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education describes the contours of the crisis and maps a road to recovery that state education leaders can act on.  

One concern that has emerged is parent’s lack of understanding about where their child stands academically. There have long been gaps between parents’ perceptions of how their children are faring and what test scores show about actual academic achievement. In Massachusetts, a survey found most parents believed their students were scoring above grade level despite nearly two-thirds of students scoring below grade level. This gap between perception and reality could hold back students’ academic recovery. 

In the pandemic’s wake, some teachers may have felt pressure to boost student’s grades even though they were struggling to complete assignments. Rising grade inflation means parents are getting mixed signals from schools. It’s no surprise in districts like Los Angeles Unified that offer tutoring, extended learning time or other catch-up opportunities are reporting low attendance. If students’ grades are sufficient for passing, why should parents insist they devote extra time to catching up? 

To address the declines in reading and math, state leaders may look to engage students and parents to help them understand the depth of this issue. Parents would benefit from a timely and accurate picture of what happened to student academic progress during interrupted instruction and what they can do to support students. This requires reliable data that clearly shows what is needed to catch up and to prepare students for future education and the workforce.  

State leaders may consider three strategies to engage parents in academic recovery: 

1. Give parents clear, accessible information on their children’s progress and needs. Rather than waiting months for standardized test results, parents could have access to easily understandable data snapshots that show whether their child is reading and doing math at grade level and how long it could take for them to catch up.

2. Support the development of individualized learning plans for students. Once parents know where their child stands, their schools could work with them to develop an individual plan that outlines their child’s unique needs and strategies to meet them. Some students might need to re-establish their routines or reconnect with friends before they can focus on academic recovery. States could consider giving parents and educators the flexibility to tailor recovery plans around these priorities.

3. Provide individualized catch-up opportunities. Whether it’s summer school, extra learning time during the school year or tutoring during the school day, every strategy for closing students’ learning gaps has drawbacks or barriers that will keep some students from participating. Some school systems have abandoned plans to accelerate student learning after struggling to incorporate tutoring into their daily schedules. Therefore, creating catch-up opportunities that align with student and teacher needs is paramount.  

No states have been immune to the pandemic’s devastating effects on student learning. Researchers like Harvard University’s Thomas Kane have warned that if schools fail to address gaps in literacy, numeracy and basic life skills among children, “learning loss will be the longest-lasting and most inequitable legacy of the pandemic.”  

If the opportunity to shine a light on the gaps in students’ learning and development is missed, state leaders risk students’ future potential, which could also impact their states’ economies in the long run. 

This spring, state leaders from both parties have taken bold actions to meet this challenge.  

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed a bill adding days to the school year to help students recover interrupted learning time.  

In Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera have created a new transparency dashboard to help parents understand where their children stand academically. They are also offering parents new flexible spending accounts they can use to help access tutoring and other support they need to address academic recovery.  

When she announced the move, Guidera warned, “We are on the cusp of losing an entire generation of students.” Those are the stakes.  

As the effects of interrupted instruction continue to be a concern, state leaders have an opportunity to help parents, educators and school system leaders ensure students are supported for their long-term success. 

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