With Aid to Spend, Schools Look for Students Who Need Help

As schools race to make up for lost class time during the pandemic, many are grappling with a simple but troubling question: Which students need help most urgently, and what kind?

Many schools saw a large number of students coming under the radar when online learning took a hit due to the pandemic. Many skipped classes, tests and homework. A record number of households opted out of annual standardized tests, giving some districts little evidence of how students were performing in reading and math.

Now districts are adding new tests to address information gaps, training teachers to address learning deficiencies, and exploring new ways to identify students who need help. In many districts, the findings are being used to direct spending of billions of dollars in federal relief to address learning loss and can be used in a myriad of ways.

New York City is adding three rounds of testing this year to see which students are behind. Similar tests are being used in Fairfax County, Virginia, which is allocating large chunks of funding to schools with low scores. Chicago is prioritizing students using a ranking system that factors in their grades as well as rates of COVID-19 and violent crime near their homes.

“Fully understanding where students are and what those gaps or challenges might be for them – it’s going to be a challenge for us,” said Debbie Durance, a data officer in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

His team, which serves an 180,000-student district, has begun tracking a new metric: “missing.” In regular reports, the team aims to log what is known about each student’s learning progress, but also what is unknown. Schools have been asked to help fill in the gaps, and students are being tested more often.

For students, disruptions related to the pandemic are still resonating. Now that Lorena Rivera’s twin daughters are back in class in Boston, some of her teachers have skipped mid-year or became ill with COVID-19. The 14-year-old twins struggled with virtual learning, feeling like they had nowhere to go when faced with math problems.

“There was a lot to leave – it was hard,” Rivera said.

Her daughters, Elizabeth and Amery Elder, have since been supported through a local learning program, Boston Partners in Education, but Rivera wonders if her school knows how her daughters are doing.

“I’m not sure because every time you meet someone, they give you something different,” she said. “Some teachers say they’re doing great, others say they can do better.”

Early results from data gathering by some of the country’s largest school districts confirm what many feared: groups of students who were already facing learning gaps before the pandemic, including black and white. Hispanic students and people from low-income families also appear to lag behind. Now more numbers.

In Fairfax County, tests looking this fall found 68% of Hispanic elementary school students needed math intervention, up from 55% in 2019. A similar increase was observed in students learning English. A quarter of white students were flagged for help, up from 19% in 2019.

Last year, Houston’s public schools found that 45% of Black and Hispanic students had at least one failing grade. This was up from 30% in 2019, and nearly three times the rate for white students.

Similar disparities are rising in schools across the country, said Robin Lake, director of the National Research Group, Center on Reinventing Public Education. This suggests that inequalities have been widening for a long time, she said, which could translate into deeper learning and income gaps for generations to come.

States are raising the alarm, urging schools to focus on students who have spent more time away from school. Utah education officials found that students who missed last year’s exams were more likely to be Native American or Hispanic, prompting urgent calls to find those students and “prevent them from falling into an academic spiral.” inspired.”

Many large districts already had testing systems and data systems in place to track down students, while some are scrambling to catch up. But not all major districts are analyzing the data or making it public.

New York City is spending $36 million on the new test, but officials said they don’t have district-wide results. Instead, he said the tests are being used at the school level to help teachers support students.

Schools in Chicago were encouraged to use a new screening test, but a district spokesman declined to provide results.

In Fairfax County, where more than 20% of students opted out of state tests last year, district officials tried to fill the gap by giving students informal, low-stakes tests to measure progress this fall. .

“We’re working to find out which students most need the most targeted support,” said Amy Goodlow, principal of Rocky Run Middle School. Teachers use test results to find concepts students struggle with and create plans to speed them up, she said.

The results are also guiding the district as it splits $188 million in federal funding among nearly 200 schools. In many buildings, the money is being used to add staff who help students in small groups, or to hire tutors for more individual help after school.

Increasing testing in some districts has drawn backlash from parents and teachers, who say it takes away valuable class time, but supporters say it is an important step toward understanding the pandemic’s impact. is step.

In Texas, a law passed last year requires 30 hours of teaching for students who did not pass the state exam last year. This applies to students who failed the test, but also to those who did not take the test.

In Houston, the state’s largest district, officials are hiring more tutors but haven’t added new tests.

“Increasing the number of assessments isn’t going to yield any different results, it will just affect the amount of instructional time we have as a district,” said Margarita Guardia, who oversees the introductory curriculum and instruction.

However, finding tutors in many areas has been a challenge amid the sudden surge in demand.

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, school officials created a new learning loss index based on assessments, attendance, and state exams, and then ranked students based on need. The district brought retired teachers back to work as tutors on a temporary basis, and it is expanding summer school, Saturday classes and other programs.

So far, the exam results have shown some progress towards bringing the students up to the grade level, but thousands of students are still behind.

“The bottom line is that we have suffered so much that it will take some time,” said Gisela Field, administrative director of evaluation, research and data analysis. “You can’t make up for that kind of loss in a year.”

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Associated Press reporter Kathleen Foodie contributed from Chicago.

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