• August 10, 2020

Test company CEO: COVID learning loss is fixable - Odessa American: Education

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Test company CEO: COVID learning loss is fixable

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Posted: Friday, July 17, 2020 7:46 pm

Learning loss during school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic was the subject of an ECISD Live broadcast with Ector County ISD Superintendent Scott Muri and Chris Minnich, CEO of the nonprofit testing company NWEA.

The Thursday evening broadcast was seen on multiple ECISD platforms.

“Our organization works with about 10,000 school districts and charter schools across the country,” Minnich said. “We give assessments in reading, language usage, math and science to students and we have academic data on how those students have done over time. What we did in our research is we looked at what could the result be of not being in school for a long time and what types of things should school districts be looking at. As we know, there might be hybrid opportunities online opportunities for students in the coming year. What types of things should schools be considering based on the data that we have?”

The data show that students may not suffer just three month’s worth of learning loss, but it could be significant.

In normal times, according to a slide shown during the broadcast, the instructional levels needed in an average fifth grade classroom span more than seven grade levels.

Teachers may have 32.9 percent at a fourth grade level; 32.7 percent at a third grade level; 23.9 percent at a fifth grade level; 1.2 percent at sixth grade; 4.4 percent at seventh grade; 3.1 percent at eighth grade; and 1.8 percent at high school level.

Losses seen five or six months out in reading, Minnich said, could be anywhere from a half grade level to about two thirds of a grade level.

“This isn’t to scare anybody,” he said. “It’s just the reality that many of our students weren’t as engaged as they could have been. And frankly, online learning has its plusses and minuses. We see a bigger gap at the earlier grades. In third grade, the slide is greater than in eighth grade. That’s something that has shown up in multiple places across the country.”

Minnich said the antidote to learning loss is students spending time with teachers.

The data also show districts should probably focus most on elementary level students because older students are more adaptable to online learning.

“The reason we’re seeing loss is students at lower grades need time with teachers learning some of the basic skills,” Minnich said.

He said the math data is a “bit more stark.”

“Math builds on itself, so if you miss something in an earlier grade then you’re really going to struggle in third grade. In most states, you’re talking some set of fractions — parts of a whole,” which is challenging to learn online, Minnich said.

Third, fourth and fifth grade math is what Minnich said he is most worried about.

“… I think especially in mathematics, the more we can do to look at the gaps that have been created, not the wholesale re-teach the previous grade, but think about the skills students may not have received toward the end of the school year last year and really accommodate for those,” he said.

Minnich said his company used data from the 2017-18 school year and assessed about 10 million students nationwide, or about 25 percent of youngsters across the country.

“We use broad data when looking at this. We made sure that it was a representative sample so it was a very large sample size. It enabled us to see where kids were at the end of that school year and then where they started the next one,” Minnich said.

He added that he thinks it’s important to have a chance to meet students where they are.

“They might have had a bad summer; they might be dealing with trauma in their lives. I believe in my heart education is the great equalizer. It creates opportunity for kids,” Minnich said.

“When you look at this data, we’re suggesting if we don’t take this seriously we will have large learning loss,” Minnich said.

For interventions, he suggests engaging with students online whenever possible, getting parents engaged with their students even if it’s just conversations about mathematics like prices at the supermarket.

“Talk to them about dollars and cents,” Minnich said. “Make it into a math problem. There are small things we can do as parents and educational leaders … to help kids grow over time.”

Minnich said figuring out how to get data on where students are quickly is going to be really important for teachers.

Muri asked about using the MAP test to see where students are when they first return to school.

“I can’t tell you what the right thing is. What I can you is until you have information on where your kids are, you’re to just going have to assume you know where they are. So that’s the thing that we’re trying to break down,” Minnich said.

As quickly as the district feels comfortable and they have tended to social-emotional learning, making sure students are safe and have access to food, the first priority should be figuring out where students are, he said.

Minnich said academic loss is fixable.

“If your kid misses something over the summer, it’s really going to be OK. There are things you can do as a parent and we’re doing in our house get your kid into books that are at the right level for them…,” Minnich said.

In the upper grades, Minnich said, figure out what a student’s passion is and engage them in things that are meaningful to them. He added that there is a lot of good content online right now and that at his house they just do 15 minutes at a time online and move on.

For math, they use Khan Academy and the local library, when it’s open, for books.

“I would just again stress don’t worry. It’s going to be OK. Do everything you can to get them interested in things that will further their education,” Minnich said.

Muri added that the Texas Education Agency has resources online as well.

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