Though students are learning in the classroom in Texas' Ector County Independent School District, the toll of long-term separation from teachers and friends continues to linger in the form of learning losses. To halt the problem, the district implemented four strategies to address math and reading losses due to extensive remote learning periods, District Administration reports.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the district has purchased 37,000 iPads and Chromebooks to put devices in the hands of every student, and has worked with private businesses to ensure all families have reliable internet access. To enhance virtual hands-on learning experiences, the district also purchased virtual lab software. Meanwhile, virtual learning coaches are helping educators develop distance teaching skills.
Communication was another focus, so Ector County ISD worked to improve outreach, not just to families of students who are struggling, but also those whose children are finding success.
After several months of remote learning, the depth of learning loss is beginning to be revealed. An initial analysis of NWEA MAP Growth assessments indicates while students in grades 3-8 made improvements in math, they scored between five and 10 percentile points lower than in fall 2020 compared to their peers last year. Reading scores were less impacted, but Hispanic and Black students in upper grades were disproportionately affected.
The level of learning loss may be more dire than so far revealed because many students are taking tests at home, where factors skewing scores could include help from parents. Curriculum Associates, the makers of the i-Ready test, is seeing an improvement in some scores when compared to previous years, but it said that goes beyond what would be expected in home-based schooling and highlights why many are concerned about the accuracy of tests taken at home.
Some education stakeholders also say the pandemic is an opportunity to make long-needed changes to the education system at large. The pandemic forced educators to embrace remote learning platforms such as videoconferencing and asynchronous lessons. Now that teachers and students are more comfortable with these formats, there may be more demand for flexible learning environments.
School schedules — which have long been discussed but are often left alone — were also suddenly upended. Now, education administrators are talking about long-term overhauls to school-day and school-year schedules.