As the pandemic moves toward the rearview, its effects on education linger. The latest edition of the Nation’s Report Card, which includes federal, state and local 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores, was released last month with grim and sobering results. Test scores are an essential benchmark, but they only tell part of the story.
As the leader of KIPP SoCal Public Schools and an educator with more than 20 years’ experience, I don’t believe those numbers reflect our students’ capabilities or unlimited potential for achievement. Rather than allowing these scores to deflate us, we will use them as a snapshot and as fuel to power our push towards academic recovery by implementing necessary programs and practices to ensure students return to — and then exceed — pre-pandemic learning levels.
It Will Take Time
If you are doing the work in schools every day, the NAEP results were no surprise. Whether charter or traditional public school, the pandemic has resulted in a setback in learning for most students, taking an especially heavy toll on the Black and Brown communities we serve. EmpowerK12, an organization using data, analysis, and collaboration to accelerate learning, believes students across the country lost nearly a full year of learning progress. It will take more than a single school year for these children to recover.
The influx of federal funding was a start, but in order for us to commit to providing the learning supports and mental health services needed for years to come, all California public schools will need a constant stream of additional federal and state funding well beyond 2024.
Focus on Tutoring and Assessments
It is up to us to intensify our focus on students.
As educators in this state, we need to increase efforts for weekly one-on-one tutoring with an emphasis on intervention, formative assessments, school recovery plans, and the creation of new programs catering to elementary and middle school English Language Learners. We need to infuse innovative existing technologies into weekly lesson plans while using state-verified diagnostic programs like iReady and MAP to ensure our students hit appropriate benchmarks.
Addressing Mental Health
What the nation’s testing scorecard doesn’t address is that mental health is an increasingly important factor in student development, and an important part of our approach at KIPP SoCal.
We’ll continue to focus on social emotional learning efforts using techniques such as circle time, calming corners and kinesthetic tools into the classroom. Studies show SEL improvements also power academic success, and reinforce positive social behaviors to foster an environment of growth and learning. Our team will also receive additional leadership training and will serve as a forum for the sharing of best practices across all schools.
KIPP SoCal believes in pursuing educational equity and social justice, encouraging students from our 24-school network to pursue college and meaningful careers to create a more just world.
On our road to recovery, we will continue to respect and develop our students as intellectuals, writers, artists, and activists – making data-driven decisions through an equity lens, paying close attention to assessments, and listening to our students’ voices related to their own learning and progress.
It’s Not Time For Divisiveness
Unfortunately, with charter school renewals fast approaching in California, some will use these test scores to push an agenda that charters are ineffective. Education Next published a 12-year study of charter vs. traditional schools in their “Winter 21” issue. Not only did charter schools keep pace with district schools, they demonstrated a steeper upward trend in student achievement. Black students, in particular, achieved greater gains at charter schools than at traditional district schools.
It’s that sort of recognition that makes 74% of parents comfortable considering their child for a charter school and 86% of parents wishing for options beyond the traditional district schools they’re assigned to, according to a survey from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
We know that the road to recovery will be long and challenging. Regardless of the type of school students attend, the end goal is to give all our children a chance to have the best life possible. Let’s not point fingers for the learning loss and instead lift each other up, and support all programs that will move California students beyond the recovery phase of the pandemic and into the future.
This op-ed was originally published in the LA School Report.