A new report suggests that hundreds of thousands of New Jersey students may finish out the 2020-21 school year below grade level expectations after a prolonged year of coronavirus-related classroom closures.
Conducted by educational advocacy group JerseyCAN, “A Time to Act” reveals that across-the-board students in grades 3-8 lost significant amounts of expected learning in the first half of the current academic year, with Black and Latinx children fell more behind than their peers.
“’A Time to Act’ is critically important snapshot of the effect of the pandemic on New Jersey student learning,” the report said. “As we move into year two of the pandemic, we must act now to stem the COVID slide for our students and get them back on track.”
After schools were shut down due to the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, districts across the state adopted remote learning plans to finish the academic year. For the 2020-21 school year, some districts returned to in-person learning or offered hybrid schedules in the Fall, but hundreds of thousands of students are still attending class virtually.
The JerseyCAN report looked at assessment data for 18,000 students in 15 districts across the state from this past Fall and Winter and found:
- On average, students lost 30% of expected learning in English and 36% in math during the first half of the 2020-12 school year
- Black students lost on average 43% of expected learning in English and 50% in math, while Latinx students lost 37% of expected learning in English and 40% in math
- Economically disadvantaged students lost an average of 43% of expected learning in Math and 37% in English
- Between Fall and Winter, students demonstrated 70% academic growth in English, 64% in math and 46% in science
- Nearly two out of every five students who were previously proficient in English on the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment test are no longer on track
The report does not only quantifies learning loss by New Jersey students but offer a pathway to get them back up to speed. Among the suggestions are:
- Expanded summer school offerings
- Giving parents the option of holding their child back a grade level next fall
- Implementing intensive tutoring programs tailored to student needs
- Administer Spring 2022 standardized tests that are aligned with New Jersey Student Learning Assessments given in Spring 2019 “to establish a new baseline to measure student growth moving forward and to also enable comparisons to pre-pandemic statewide proficiency”
- About one out of every two students who were proficient in math in Spring 2019. Are not meeting or exceeding expectations anymore
‘There Is No Time To Wait’
Democratic State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said, “The learning loss and its effects are clear. This is an urgent situation and we must be transparent and work collectively to address this issue. There is no time to wait. Students who were already lagging have slipped even further behind due to the pandemic.”
Vivian Cox-Fraser, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Essex County, said she believes the study “should be a call to action for those who care about equity in our communities.”
“Our low-income, Black and Brown communities are bearing the brunt of the COVID crisis—not just when it comes to the virus itself, but the long-term impacts of a year away from school buildings,” Cox-Fraser said.
State Offers Grants, Resources To Help
Next fall, all schools in New Jersey will be open and 100% virtual learning will no longer be an option for students or teachers unless there is medical condition preventing them from returning to the classroom, Gov. Phil Murphy announced in March.
“Now is the time for all of our schools to meaningfully move forward with a return to in-person instruction—whether it be full-time or through a hybrid schedule,” said Murphy. “It is time for more of our students to be active presences in our schools and not on black boxes on a Zoom screen.”
The governor, who has said improving educational outcomes for the state’s 1.4 million students amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, recently unveiled aid programs to help districts deal with challenges posed by the pandemic.
That support includes a new grant program to support summer programming and high-dosage tutoring, as well as a grant for student and staff mental health resources.
NJ Schools Receiving Billions In Federal Aid
In addition to the state-administered grant programs, local districts are receiving $1.1 billion in federal stimulus funds through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) and an additional $2.4 billion over the next three years from the newly signed American Rescue Plan.
Patricia Morgan, executive director of JerseyCAN, said it is “critically important” that the aid be used “to implement high-quality interventions to accelerate student learning and get as many students back on track as soon as possible.”