If you’re questioning whether your child could use summer school after months of remote learning, the answer is probably yes, according to a new report.
New Jersey students likely lost about 30% of expected learning in English and 36% in math by the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, a study by the advocacy group JerseyCAN found. The report, released Tuesday, also suggests hundreds of thousands of children in grades 3-8 could finish this academic year behind grade level expectations.
The data is based on a small sample size — testing results from 15 school districts or charter schools that asked to remain confidential. But it adds to the growing concern about learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, building on state Department of Education data that found a third of students could need “strong support” in reading and math.
Learning loss has been especially significant for children of color, the new report found.
“We should all feel heartbroken without a doubt,” said state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, chair of the Senate Education Committee. “But we should be encouraged about what the truth in this report can lend itself to.”
New Jersey schools closed in March 2020 when the first wave of the pandemic hit the state. While some districts returned to in-person learning or offered hybrid schedules in the fall, hundreds of thousands of students remain out of the classroom more than a year later.
The report’s top recommendation is urgently prioritizing summer learning, said Patricia Morgan, executive director of JerseyCAN, a non-profit that advocates for school choice and quality schools for all students.
“We should be allowing any family that wants their student to engage in summer learning over the summer months to be able to do so,” Morgan said. “We can’t let that time period go to waste and have more students fall off track.”
The report comes as Gov. Phil Murphy plans to order all schools to open next fall and eliminate the virtual learning option for students. New Jersey districts will receive billions in federal aid that they can spend over the next two school years — including for summer school. But educators and state leaders are not entirely in lockstep over how schools should respond to pandemic-related learning loss.
With the education of a generation of New Jersey kids at stake, a return to classroom instruction ushers in a colossal new challenge for educators.
“We know there’s learning loss,” Murphy said at his COVID-19 media briefing on Monday. “We are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at that.”
Schools have said they cannot mandate summer school, but will strongly encourage it for many students.
Some districts are already deep into planning for it and say they hope to greatly expand their programs. Superintendents have talked about intramural sports and field trips as potential enticements to make summer school more attractive for families.
Many students could benefit from summer school, but not all will need it, said Marie Blistan, the president of the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, in a recent interview.
JerseyCAN conducted the new report, A Time To Act, with EmpowerK12, a research organization based in Washington, D.C. that analyzed data from the first half of the 2020-2021 school year. The study used data from two assessment tools: NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and Curriculum Associates’ i-Ready Diagnostic.
Data from schools was especially concerning for children of color, said Vivian Cox-Fraser, president and CEO of the Urban League of Essex County.
On average, Black students lost 43% of expected learning in English and 50% in math. Latinx students lost 37% of expected learning in English and 40% in math, the report found.
“Our low-income, Black and brown communities are bearing the brunt of the COVID crisis — not just when it comes to the virus itself, but the long-term impacts of a year away from school buildings,” Cox-Fraser said. “This study should be a call to action for those of us who care about equity in our communities.
Besides summer school, the report suggests personalized solutions for students, which could include repeating a grade if necessary. It also asks that the state administer standardized tests in the spring of 2022 that are aligned with the New Jersey Student Learning Assessments given in the spring of 2019.
Morgan said the road ahead gives New Jersey a chance to live up to its billing as the top education system in the country.
“This is an opportunity for New Jersey,” she said. “This is the opportunity to earn our title as No. 1.”