By Andrew Barton
A trio of education experts who have analyzed equity in disrupted learning and COVId-19's impact on education, participated in the second vitual meeting hosted by NCSL's Education team focused on tackling learning gaps and reengaging students.
During the event, experts and participants built on a previous assessment discussion to focus on the impact of disrupted learning on students.
NCSL Early Education Policy Specialist Patrick Lyons, and Research Analyst Benjamin Olneck-Brown led with a discussion of the context of disrupted learning. Disjointed learning occurring over the last year, as well as the impact on students, is of great concern to education-focused policymakers, educators and parents.
Iheoma Iruka, research professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, introduced attendees to her survey work on the diverse experiences families have had during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with the U.S. Department of Education and Educare Learning Network, her team looked into how low-income families with young children were able to access early learning. Findings, despite missing data due to assessment gaps, indicate many children are not attending lessons or participating in their education programs. This may not be due to choice, but rather access. Many low-income families lack reliable access to the internet and technology.
In her findings, Iruka also suggests the term “learning loss” was inaccurate, as it does not take into account the different types of skills that are being learned in the virtual-learning environment. Since standardized tests are limited in scope, she suggests updating testing to more adequately measure skill level in non-traditional students (non-white, bilingual, low-income, etc.), as well as skills that are not traditionally measured, such as socio-emotional growth.
Jennifer DePaoli, senior researcher at LPI, discussed the social and emotional impact of the pandemic on students. Students are constantly developing academically, socially and emotionally. DePaoli suggests that the pandemic has shown a light on how schools have not been focused on developing the whole child, rather they focus too much on just the academics.
The disruption of students’ social lives has been hard to handle, and the impact of this disruption can have long-lasting impacts on psychological health. Finding ways to equitably address this disruption in key, as the greatest impacts are being felt in low-income communities and communities of color.
Meghan McCormick, research associate with MDRC discussed how the pandemic and virtual learning has affected early learning. Some children have started out their academic careers without ever having been in a classroom. When it comes to recovery investments, a potential solution to early learning loss is increased summer learning opportunities.
MDRC research suggests that high-quality summer programs before kindergarten or first grade can support long-term student learning. McCormick suggests that planning under the federal American Rescue Plan should also target these younger children to expose them to the traditional learning structures that they will see in the future.
Having supports to aid in learning during the kindergarten year will significantly impact longer-term learning outcomes. This may include more paraprofessionals, expanded summer learning opportunities and more tutoring and coaching for individual students.
Be sure to check out the recording of this presentation and the speaker’s resource materials on NCSL's 2021 Education Virtual Meetings webpage. NCSL will continue to track COVID-related learning gaps and proposed policy solutions to ensure that legislators and other interested parties have access to the most up-to-date information. You can find more information and stay up-to-date on NCSL’s COVID-19 Education webpage.
Andrew Barton is an intern in NCSL's Education Program.