272,000 students fall behind in school, NJ pandemic report finds
School closures and limitations caused by the coronavirus pandemic continue to result in a greater number of New Jersey students falling behind in math and English, according to a report released Tuesday by JerseyCAN.
The nonprofit, which advocates for high quality schools, is the first to conduct a statewide study quantifying learning loss over the past year.
By the end of the current academic year, an additional 143,000 students in grades 3 through 8 are expected to fall behind in English language arts, and an additional 129,000 are expected to fall behind in math, compared to spring 2019 when state assessments were last given, the report says.
In just the first half of the 2020-21 school year, when buildings were first able to reopen to in-person learning, New Jersey students in grades 3 through 8 lost 30% of expected learning in language arts and lost 36% of expected learning in math, the report suggests. The loss was greater for Black and Latino students.
"We are calling this report 'A Time to Act' because we think that the data in this report really need to be the foundation for a statewide conversation about how we utilize proven research-based techniques to get our students back on track," JerseyCAN Executive Director Patricia Morgan told New Jersey 101.5.
For some students, she said, "high-dosage tutoring" could fill the gap. Others may need further interventions.
"We should be urgently prioritizing summer programming and summer learning for any student who is interested in using this summer to get back on track," Morgan said. "We don't want the summer to go to waste and have more students fall off track before next school year."
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy noted that "a ton of" federal coronavirus funding has been devoted to students' learning loss and mental health.
"We know there's learning loss and we are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at that," Murphy said. "We're still getting guidance on the American Rescue Plan. Will that potentially include summer, extra hours, tutoring, professional development for educators? All of the above, is my guess."
The federal government has announced that no waivers for standardized testing requirements would be granted to any state because of the COVID-19 crisis. The Garden State is still pushing for that waiver, but the Murphy Administration said that, just in case, districts should prepare for administration of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments in the spring.
In its report, JerseyCAN said Spring 2022 statewide assessments should be comparable to 2019's so the state can establish a new baseline.
The group also suggested that parents be allowed to decide whether their children are going to repeat their current grade due to learning loss — that decision is ultimately up to school administrators. A proposed law advanced by a Senate committee would give parents control over that choice.
Murphy expects all New Jersey students to be back in school for learning by September, with no option for remote classes.