In March 2021, the federal government authorized a third stimulus package to help K12 schools respond to and recover from the ongoing challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. The American Rescue Plan (ARP) includes nearly $130 billion for local education agencies (LEAs), which will be rolled down to districts by state education agencies (SEAs). This money is in addition to any CARES act funding already available to states, districts, and schools. The acts include set-aside funding earmarked for private schools.
One of the only requirements of the stimulus package is that at least 20 percent of the funds be used to address learning loss. By measuring the impact of the pandemic through evidence-based assessments and taking appropriate action through implementation, schools can make a valuable investment in the future success of their students.
Addressing learning loss can be broken down into three steps:
Step 1: Testing
Administering valid and reliable assessments can determine the effect of the pandemic on student learning. A holistic testing approach provides data that identifies the learning gaps created by the pandemic and helps drive educational equity. Consider using a computer-adaptive test (CAT), rather than a fixed-form grade-level test as some students may have slipped below grade-level. CATs can usually give you better insight into the exact skills requiring remediation.
Although not strictly a testing activity, surveying students and parents about social, and emotional toll school closures and the pandemic has taken on their learning can provide significant insights. Survey data can uncover underlying conditions to the academic exam results that help you create a fuller, more responsive action plan.
Step 2: Data Collection and Analysis
Data that identifies areas of strengths and weaknesses can be used to make evidence-based decisions about the ‘21-’22 academic year. Analytics will provide a benchmark to help educators identify the students who are most at-risk and determine the appropriate interventions to help right the course. It’s not enough to just look at a snapshot of the data—you need a responsive, visual analytics tool to help you see performance patterns clearly drawn from a broad picture of students that includes attendance, discipline, and grades as well as test scores.
Step 3: Implementation
Once you have defined an educational roadmap, getting buy-in from schools, students, and parents is key. Administrators should ensure a plan is in place to measure and collect performance data throughout the academic year, allowing progress to be measured against the original testing data. Again, a CAT can provide growth data in a way that no only measures specific skills, but enables you to see where you are on regaining the learning lost to the pandemic.
Beyond testing, consider having a plan to regularly survey students and parents throughout the year. This helps you measure whether you re-opening strategies are working for the community, as well as being able to keep a finger on the pulse of student and parent stress levels and other community factors.
ARP funds provide an unprecedented opportunity to invest in the future trajectory of your students, following the impacts made to education by COVID-19. Using these funds to expand existing assessment programs or develop new platforms is a necessary first step in addressing the learning losses accrued in 2020.