On Sept. 29, the Kentucky Department of Education released the results of the 2021 student assessments. As expected, COVID has taken a tremendous toll on student learning:
▪ Nearly 60% of elementary students who participated in the reading assessment are not meeting grade-level standards;
▪ Nearly 70% of middle school students who participated in the mathematics assessment are not meeting grade-level standards; and
▪ Only 30% of high school juniors met Kentucky’s college-readiness benchmark in mathematics.
In media interviews, I made clear that the results are not a judgment on our districts or our educators who were doing all they knew to do in an extraordinary environment. That said, the results reflect the impact of COVID on student learning and, therefore, are a set of important metrics which must serve as an urgent call to action.
We have long held the position that state assessments are not a measure to punish schools, educators, or students, but a tool to provide data about student performance so administrators, policymakers, and communities can make informed decisions about improving academic outcomes. This position has never been more important than it is today.
Ignoring the results of the Kentucky Summative Assessments could have dire consequences for the future of our state. If the 60% of elementary students who are behind in reading never reach proficiency, their comprehension of other important topics like science and social studies will also plummet, and their prospects of succeeding in college-level courses or skills training after high school are low. This will impact the number of professionals — health care workers, teachers, law enforcement, and the workforce in general that we rely on for our economy to function and grow.
Now is the time for communities to come together and share in the development of a new normal – one that responds to the needs elevated by the pandemic — like mental health and early childhood — and expands innovations that proved promising. A new normal also means we listen closely to the needs of parents and students now, as we are all still in the midst of balancing a COVID-safe life and new normal in our own lives and communities. Our public education system must respond to these needs in new and innovative ways to remain relevant and to deliver on the promise of public education.
Thankfully, there is ample funding available to help bolster learning. The American Rescue Plan provided $2.4 billion for COVID recovery within Kentucky’s schools. Additionally, Kentucky counties received a total of $1.15 billion and cities received $751.5 million. Combined, these dollars can be spent on community solutions — such as after-school learning programs — that will truly help our students catch up.
With this unprecedented federal investment coming to our school districts and local municipalities, I urge local communities to ask leaders how they are collaborating across government sectors locally, bringing in community-based organizations and local leaders, and using data to develop and evaluate local plans for learning recovery from COVID and to establish a new normal for public education. Education attainment IS the way we improve quality of life and local economies.
Learning recovery from COVID is everybody’s business.
By Brigitte Blom is President and CEO of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.