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Parents concerned their child won’t be prepared for next school year, education advocates favor extending it

When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools across the country in mid-March, many schools and educators jumped into action—from getting devices into students’ hands to meal distribution sites.

But there is still concern among some parents that their child won’t be prepared for the next school year, according to a national survey by the University of Southern California.

USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research’s “Understanding Coronavirus in America” survey found that out of the 1,452 households with children in daycare/preschool through 12th grade, 25 percent of parents shared this concern. Worry that their child will be ill-prepared was greatest among Latino parents (37 percent).

The data aligns with key findings from a recent poll of 1,720 educators by the EdWeek Research Center, reports Education Week.

…[T]he poll found that most educators are somewhat or very worried that students may fall behind in several subjects due to the coronavirus closures. Math in particular was an issue: More than half reported they were “very concerned” about that subject.

But when asked how schools should come back from lost classroom instruction, a majority of surveyed teachers prefer “business as usual”—beginning the next school year with the next grade’s instruction—with a recognition that many students will require additional assistance, according to the Collaborative for Student Success.

The poll asked the opinion of teachers, administrators, policymakers, and education advocates to analyze four return-to-the-classroom options, suggest other alternatives, and express their reasoning about the best and worst options. The four basic options included extending the next school year, beginning the next school year where instruction stopped this school year, beginning the next school year as in any other year, and offering the opportunity to repeat the present grade.

Teachers favor to resume the regularly scheduled instruction next year by a wide 65-23 margin. (However, in their open-ended responses, many of those same teachers call for a more targeted solution to helping the students most in need, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.) Both administrators and advocates/policymakers agreed by 54-36 and 47-41 margins, respectively.

The most popular option among administrators was picking up next year where classroom instruction was interrupted this year.

Among education advocates and policymakers, extending the next school year was favored by a margin of 51 percent support to 39 percent oppose, but teachers and administrators both opposed the idea. Advocates and policymakers also supported giving parents/students the opportunity to repeat this year’s grades, which was also disliked by administrators and teachers.

There was consensus, though, among respondents that administering a high-quality assessment at the start of the 2020 school year would help education professionals understand the amount of learning loss students incurred during the health crisis, which, according to the Collaborative for Student Success, is “noteworthy in a time of increased anti-testing sentiment. The recognition that data is a powerful ally to helping right the ship is one that should be promoted.”

A recent report from the Collaborative for Student Growth projects the COVID-19 closures will have academic impacts for students, especially in mathematics.

Preliminary COVID slide estimates suggest students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50% of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.

But education leaders can begin planning now to address the broad academic challenges the coronavirus disruption has created, according to a blueprint for reopening schools released by the American Enterprise Institute.

Disrupting the school year has created broad academic challenges for students, particularly those most vulnerable before the crisis occurred. Schools will need to differentiate instructional strategies to meet students where they are. This means addressing schedules and instructional time, diagnostics, curriculum, and accountability.

Adapting schedules and learning time could involve extending the school day or school year to give students more instructional time or basing student progress on demonstrated mastery of competencies rather than on seat time, according to AEI. States should also commit to administering their 2021 assessments in the spring and considering different accountability models such as competency-based learning for measuring student growth given the missing year of data.

Regardless of what things will look like come this fall, school leaders should embrace the uncertainty and use the next several months to plan and prepare for how to serve the needs of all students in the coming school year, AEI continues.

We should not try to return to “normal,” but rather strive for something better. Even when schools were operating normally before COVID-19, many students were not being served well. COVID-19 exposed too many of the inequities that we have either overlooked or ignored for too long.

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