State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz Pushes For State Report On Pandemic’s Impact On Student Learning

State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) is pushing for the state Department of Education (NJDOE) to conduct a review of just how much student learning has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the 2020-21 school year, many districts began with hybrid schooling, which blended in-person classes and remote learning. However, as a second wave of COVID-19 hits the state, many districts have switched back to remote learning to keep students, teachers and staff safe.

With tens of thousands of students back to remote schooling, Ruiz wants the state to have a better handle on how well distance learning is working before standardized tests are given next Spring.

What The Analysis Would Include

“More than ever, it is abundantly clear there is a need for real-time data on where our children stand academically,” said Ruiz, who chairs the State Senate Education Committee.

Under Ruiz’s legislation, NJDOE would be required to compile and report on student progress and break the data up into ethic, racial and socioeconomic categories. Other factors to be assessed include district size, grade and subject areas, according to Ruiz.

The NJDOE would also be tasked with reviewing how districts have been operating since mid-March, when Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all schools to close as part of the state’s efforts to limit the spread of the virus and teaching was done virtually for the remainder of the school year.

The report would include details on instruction formats, technology access, attendance rates and social-emotional supports. According to Ruiz, the report would be due to the state Legislature and the governor 60 days after the bill’s enactment.

Income Disparities In Learning

Ruiz’s call for a report on learning loss follows the release of a survey that shows many families are frustrated with the virtual learning experience and more needs to be done to close the digital divide for students.

The statewide poll of 600 parents was conducted in October and sought to determine the effect of the pandemic on New Jersey’s 1.3 million public school students and their families.

The findings, she said, have “proven what we feared would be the case—which is that minority, low-income families are struggling the most with remote education.”

Improvement Since Spring

Sixty-six percent of parents said remote schooling has improved since last Spring, when schools switched to virtual classes. But only about 42% rated remote learning as “very successful” and many said they wanted better communication on how their child is progressing academically.

The study identified “clear issues that need to be addressed” in order to “improve the current educational experience,” particularly for Black and Hispanic students. Those steps include: reliable internet access, closing technological barriers and addressing food insecurity.

The NJDOE recently announced statewide assessments scheduled for this Fall would be not be administered and would instead be included with standardized tests next spring.

Data Needed

That postponement, Ruiz said, only makes it more critical to learn more about the pandemic’s impact in the classroom.

“We need data as soon as possible, so we can take action and prevent further learning loss amongst our most vulnerable students,” stated Ruiz.

“If we are genuinely committed to closing the achievement gap we must acknowledge there was a divide pre-COVID, we must assess to see where we are now, in the midst of the pandemic, and we must invest post-COVID to ensure that gap does not continue to grow the way it has over the last eight months,” said the State Senator.

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