At the first anniversary of school closures due to COVID-19, nearly half of the K–12 students in the U.S. were attending schools that were either fully remote or offering hybrid instruction, with more than 70 percent of California students attending schools remotely. For this reason, continued efforts to unpack the effects of COVID-19 on student outcomes are especially important for California students, who may be experiencing larger-than-average effects of continued school closures relative to the nation overall.
Since spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has been abruptly interrupting regular instruction in almost all schools in the U.S. One year later, policymakers, district administrators, and educators are still balancing the benefits and risks of returning K–12 students to fully in-person school. Many are concerned about the pandemic’s disruption to students’ academic progress.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all students; however, its impact has been particularly devastating for students of color, students from low-income families, English learners, and other marginalized children and youth. As transmission rates decline and vaccination rates increase in California, many are eager to return to normalcy, but we must all recognize that even the prepandemic normal was not working for all students. The 2021–22 school year, therefore, constitutes a critical opportunity for schools to offer students, families, and educators a restorative restart.
We use data from oral reading fluency (ORF) assessments to examine COVID-19’s effects on children’s ORF in over 100 U.S. school districts. Students’ development of ORF largely stopped in spring 2020 following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fall 2020, students’ gains in reading were stronger and similar to prepandemic rates. However, fall gains were insufficient to recoup spring losses; overall, students’ ORF in second and third grade is approximately 30 percent behind expectations.
Strong partnerships between schools and expanded learning programs lay the foundation for building stronger, more equitable support systems for children and their families. Building on prior investments in the expanded learning system, California’s school reopening guidance encouraged intentional coordination across schools and expanded learning providers to best meet the needs of students during this unprecedented time.
This brief is one in a series aimed at providing K-12 education decision makers and advocates with an evidence base to ground discussions about how to best serve students during and following the novel coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the EdResearch for Recovery Project and view the set of COVID-19 response-and-recovery topic areas and practitioner-generated questions here. The central question of this brief is: How can schools and districts monitor students’ social and emotional well-being across the year?
As California’s elementary schools reopen after prolonged physical closure due to COVID-19, attention to healing the school community will be essential. Although there is wide variation in the timing and formats with which schools plan to reopen, it is clear that when students reenter school buildings they will be eager to reconnect with friends and teachers. Because elementary school-aged children learn and grow through play, recess is an ideal time to support healing and to prepare students to return to the classroom ready to learn.
In March 2020, most schools in the U.S. transitioned to distance learning. During the transition a significant number of students did not fully engage in learning opportunities. This brief uses administrative panel data from the CORE Districts in California to approximate the impact of the pandemic by analyzing how absenteeism has affected student outcomes in the recent past. We show wide variation in absenteeism impacts on academic and social-emotional outcomes by grade and subgroup, as well as the cumulative effect of different degrees of absence.
The educators of Ayer Elementary in Fresno Unified School District began their continuous improvement journey in 2016. The stability of their underlying organizational conditions to engage in improvement work—a shared purpose, mutual trust, structures and resources that foster collaborative work, and preparation and mobilization of improvement capabilities—was put to the test as their focus pivoted in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
With the context of schooling so disrupted, many traditional methods of grading have been disrupted as well. For example, counting student participation or completion of practice work is difficult when students have unequal access to the internet for class time. What can research tell us about grading and assessment practices schools could use in the year ahead? This brief discusses grading and assessment practices that research suggests have the flexibility needed during this time of disruption, to support student learning and measure that learning in a meaningful way.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of school districts in California will not have in-person teaching in fall 2020. Over the months ahead, parents, educators, and the public will have to navigate uncertainty in weighing the costs and benefits of opening schools versus supporting learning remotely. This brief offers the questions that parents, educators, and the public should ask about the education, health, safety, and social-emotional needs of children and adults when considering plans for reopening during the pandemic.
Equity is the consistent thread that runs through major California education policies of the last decade, which have focused on providing access and opportunity tailored to students’ needs in order to reduce disparities in learning outcomes. Equity challenges, already significant prior to COVID-19, have been exacerbated by the pandemic’s education disruptions.
Though the delivery of instruction in the 2020–21 school year will be altered to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a long-standing research base on high-quality instruction can inform decisions about students’ learning and engagement. The following ten recommendations distill the key findings from the PACE report Supporting Learning in the COVID-19 Context, which offers a framework for educators and district leaders to use in their preparation to provide quality instruction through distance and blended models.
COVID-19 has disrupted California’s education system in fundamental ways. Districts across the state are quickly creating strategies to serve all students, and many are designing their response around the needs of their most vulnerable students. This brief highlights the response of Mother Lode Union School District (MLUSD) to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which district staff and teachers were able to collaborate—despite the unprecedented crisis—to meet student needs.
Students suffer learning losses over the summer holiday in the best of circumstances; the COVID-19 school closures are likely to intensify that effect. While it is impossible to know at this point to what degree learning loss will be impacted by this extraordinary circumstance, research demonstrates that academic “slide” is typically observed most in math and, to a somewhat lesser extent, reading.
Governor Newsom has discussed staggered or multi-track calendars as an option for going back to school in fall 2020. A review of research on multi-track calendars shows that over time there are slight negative effects on learning, but this research was done during a period where the alternative was a traditional calendar. In the current situation, which would otherwise have students staying home entirely, a staggered calendar would have clear learning benefits and would help both parents and teachers get back to work.
COVID-19 presents an array of challenges for school districts. In this brief, we share some promising practices learned from California’s Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD), particularly in the areas of family engagement and instructional access for English learners.
We use data from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier annual voter poll to report on California voters’ attitudes towards educational equity policy initiatives, specifically: (a) increasing the number of public school teachers of color in California and (b) requiring all high school students in California to complete an ethnic studies course. A majority of voters supported these initiatives. Respondents showed higher levels of support for increasing the number of teachers of color when informed about the positive academic impact this would likely have for students of color.
More than 725,000 of California’s K-12 students qualified for special education services in 2018-19, but they entered a system that is often ill-equipped to serve them. This brief summarizes the findings from the PACE Policy Research Panel on Special Education: Organizing Schools to Serve Students with Disabilities in California. We find opportunities for improvement in early screening, identification, and intervention; transitions into and out of special education services; educator preparation and ongoing support; and availability of mental and physical health services.
In this brief, we leverage data from eight school districts, known as the CORE districts, to describe students with disabilities (SWDs) by their characteristics, outcomes, and transitions into and out of special education. We found that the most common disability type was a specific learning disability. Relative to their representation among students districtwide, males, African Americans, English language learners, and foster youth were more highly represented among SWDs. In terms of outcomes, chronic absence was more prevalent among children with multiple disabilities.
Only about 10 percent of eligible infants and toddlers with developmental delays nationwide receive early intervention services, which are widely agreed to reduce delays and lessen the adverse effects of risk factors and disabilities on learning and development. California serves fewer children than the national average. Challenges arise from spotty screening; tenuous linkages to referral and evaluation; and the intricacies of crossing multiple agencies—sometimes without knowledge of English—for families.
Preparing all students, including students with disabilities, for life after high school is a critical responsibility for California’s education system. Engaging students and their families in discussions regarding careers, employment, and the pre-requisites for postsecondary education, training, and employment must start early and continue throughout their educational experiences. While there are programs in California that benefit students as they explore career opportunities, students with disabilities are seldom included in these programs.
One of the key purposes of public education is to prepare young people to reach their full potential as independent adults and engaged citizens. This transition to adulthood may be especially challenging for youth with disabilities. Students enrolled in special education often need additional supports and coordinated planning to prepare for employment, postsecondary education, and community living.
Under California’s System of Support, differentiated assistance (DA) provides supports to eligible districts to boost student group performance levels. This brief describes the districts that were eligible for DA in 2019 based on the performance levels of their students with disabilities (SWD). It also analyzes how SWD performance on State Priority Areas (SPAs) and indicators factored into districts’ eligibility for DA. Findings show that, among the 333 districts identified for DA, eligibility was driven, in part, by SWD performance for over half of those districts.
This brief examines California’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), which is a framework designed to identify and assist students performing below grade level. MTSS involves at least three tiers of support; Tier 2 includes personalized assistance. Unfortunately, Tier 2 services are not adequately resourced so it is not surprising that California students rank only 38th in the nation in reading and math. To move higher, it is important that the state provide categorical funding for Tier 2 services. California teachers already have a full-time job.