Districts lack ‘comprehensive’ plans to address learning loss this fall, analysis finds

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Dive Brief:

  • In an ongoing analysis of the nation’s 100 most high-profile school districts, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a non-partisan research and policy analysis organization, found slightly more than half of the districts are offering some extent of in-person instruction, an increase from one-quarter at the beginning of the school year.
  • Most districts surveyed (80%) said they had plans to assess students. However, the analysis found fewer offered “comprehensive” and district-wide plans to identify and address learning losses, with 59% lacking transparent plans around what kinds of assessments will be used and which data will be made available to parents or the public.
  • Nearly two-thirds specified strategies like tutoring or small-group instruction for students falling behind.

Dive Insight:

CRPE said a lack of district-wide plans “means students risk receiving different treatment based on which school they attend or who their teacher is.”

“Instead, we would love to see more districts creating a universal approach to collecting data on learning loss, communicating their expectations clearly to families, and using that data to inform how they allocate resources across schools,” Bree Dusseault, one of the authors of the analysis, told Education Dive in a statement.

Texas’ San Antonio Independent School District is highlighted as an example. The district plans to administer assessments and then incorporate test results alongside other data to create individualized learning plans for each student that all their teachers can monitor. 

Prior to fall 2020, researchers and educators warned against misinterpreting assessment results ​or assessing without clear goals. Used the wrong way, assessment results could lead to harmful decisions, like holding students back a grade or providing students with low-level content, assessment experts said.

However, assessments have the potential to be “really meaningful” when married to clear district goals, parent-teacher communication, and teacher training around data interpretation and instruction, said Robin Lake, director of CRPE.

With fall 2020 in full swing, more districts have reopened with some extent of in-person learning, which many district officials and the White House have stressed is important for social-emotional learning and to address learning losses. However, the new analysis shows larger districts “are too often consumed by crisis response and the logistical challenges of reopening to develop new strategies for teaching and learning.” 

Results released in August of a survey conducted by the University of Virginia and the EdTech Evidence Exchange show while a majority of teachers surveyed believe their students will need personalized instruction this fall, their PD for remote learning was informal and self-initiated. Administrators, on the other hand, perceived their districts as offering formalized PD for teachers at higher rates.

Districts have long sought to effectively use assessment data to inform PD. Prior to the pandemic, for example, California’s Lindsay Unified School District put in place a data dashboard to track teacher training, students’ academic results and learning losses.

During closures, Lindsay USD paid teachers to attend professional learning workshops as an incentive. And during this school year, its dashboard will inform teacher training as the district gets a clearer image of students’ learning losses, Amalia Lopez, director of special projects, told Education Dive previously. 

Using student learning data to inform PD and incentivizing teachers resulted in “learners making progress as expected [when] compared to last year,” Lopez said.

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