Schools across the country are scrambling to make up for lost time during the pandemic by allocating billions of dollars to tutoring, summer camps, and longer school days, as well as figuring out which students require the most assistance after two years of disruptions.
When learning went online for the pandemic, many schools saw large numbers of students fall through the cracks. Many students failed to show up for class, tests, or homework. Annual standardized tests were opted out by a record number of families, leaving some districts with little evidence of how students were doing in reading and math.
Now, districts are attempting to address this information gap by implementing new tests, training teachers to identify learning gaps, and experimenting with new ways to identify students who require assistance. The findings are being used to guide the spending of billions of dollars in federal relief meant to address learning loss and can be used in a variety of ways in many districts.
This year, New York City is adding three rounds of testing in the hopes of identifying which students are falling behind. In Virginia’s Fairfax County, similar tests are being used to allocate larger portions of funding to schools with lower scores. Students in Chicago are prioritized using a ranking system that considers their grades as well as COVID-19 and violent crime rates near their homes.
Her team, which serves the district’s 180,000 students, has begun tracking a new metric called “missingness.” The team aims to log what is known about each student’s learning progress, as well as what is unknown, in regular reports. Students are being tested more frequently, and schools have been asked to help fill in the gaps.
Disruptions caused by the pandemic are still being felt by students. Some of Lorena Rivera’s twin daughters’ teachers have quit mid-year or become sick with COVID-19 since they returned to school in Boston. The 14-year-old twins struggled with virtual learning and felt as if they had nowhere to turn for help with math problems.
Her daughters, Elizabeth and Amerie Allder, have since found help through Boston Partners in Education, a local tutoring program, but Rivera wonders if their school is aware of their progress.
Early data from some of the nation’s largest school districts confirms what many had suspected: Students who were already behind before the pandemic, such as Black and Hispanic students, as well as those from low-income families, appear to be falling further behind now.
According to Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a national research group, similar inequities are popping up in schools across the country. She believes it indicates that long-standing inequities are widening, which could lead to wider learning and income disparities for future generations.
States have been sounding the alarm, urging schools to concentrate on students who spend more time out of school. Utah education officials discovered that students who failed last year’s exams were far more likely to be Native American or Hispanic, prompting an urgent plea to locate those students and “prevent them from falling into an academic spiral.”
Many larger districts already had testing and data systems in place to identify students who were falling behind, while others are still catching up. However, not all of the major districts are analyzing the data or making it available to the public.
New York City is spending $36 million on new testing, but officials say they have no district-wide results yet. Instead, they claim that the tests are used at the school level to assist teachers in providing support to students.
A new screening exam was encouraged in Chicago schools, but a district spokesperson refused to release the results.
In Fairfax County, where more than 20% of students opted out of state tests last year, district officials attempted to fill in the gaps this fall by administering informal, low-stakes tests to students to assess their progress.
The findings are also helping the district allocate $188 million in federal funding to nearly 200 schools. The money is being used to hire tutors for more personal help after school in many buildings, or to hire additional staff to help students in small groups.