For Miami-Dade’s youngest learners, 43% are below grade level in reading, 54% in math

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About half of Miami-Dade’s public school students in pre-K through third grade are behind grade level in reading and math due to learning losses brought on by the pandemic, according to Miami-Dade County Public Schools officials.

School Board members on Wednesday learned of the extent of learning loss in an unprecedented school year amid remote learning during the pandemic — and what the district plans to do about it — through a presentation given at School Board committee meetings. The district plans to hire more academic interventionists and tutors with federal stimulus dollars.

Lissette Alves, assistant superintendent over curriculum and instruction, said results from January diagnostic tests taken by students in grades Pre-K through 3 show that an average of 43% are below grade level in reading and 54% are below grade level in math. Students learning online and in-person took the tests.

The presentation was part of a report called for by School Board member Mari Tere Rojas, whose proposal to address student regression and learning loss in early grades was approved in March. To put district figures into context, she tallied that 15% of pre-K students are behind grade level in reading, and 13% are behind grade level in math. For kindergarten, 16% are behind in reading and 24% are behind in math. In first grade, 37% are behind in reading with 41% behind in math.

Among second-graders, 36% are behind in reading and 41% are behind in math. And for third-graders who could be retained, 27% are behind in reading and 40% are behind in math.

“Of course there are outliers this year, there’s a lot in the air that we don’t know yet,” Rojas said. “But these numbers are alarming.”

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho cautioned that his staff has approached the data with “trepidation” and “doubt.” He said students learning fully online may have had parental help on the assessments while those learning in school face another set of circumstances.

“It is data that we’re not going to take to the bank as we have in the past,” he said.

Alves said some parents have kept their pre-K and kindergarten students at home and out of school, unwilling or unable to deal with burdens brought on by the pandemic.

Between work and remote learning brought on by the pandemic, some parents struggle with competing demands.
Between work and remote learning brought on by the pandemic, some parents struggle with competing demands.

Additional instruction for those behind in reading

She said that students in pre-K through third grade who were identified as below grade level in reading based on a September assessment were already enrolled into tiers with specialized instruction. Those identified as one grade level below in reading were placed in Tier 2 with an additional 30 minutes of reading daily.

Those who are two or more grade levels below are defined by the state as having a “substantial reading deficiency” and were placed in Tier 3. Those students receive an additional hour of “explicit, systematic, and multi-sensory reading instruction.”

The state does not specifically build math intervention into the school day schedule, so interventions must take place in an hour-long math bloc.

Extra help for mental health and social/emotional learning

The district also is providing tiered support for social and emotional learning and mental health. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study has shown visits to the ER for mental health problems rose 31 percent among children aged 12 to 17 and 24 percent among children aged 5 to 11 between mid-March and mid-October 2020, compared to the previous year.

Social and emotional learning is incorporated into core courses while specialized training is provided for school counselors, psychologists and social workers.

Alves said students are monitored on a weekly basis with district and iReady assessments. Monthly progress reports are sent to parents, who are encouraged to attend webinars and work with their child over the summer.

Ramped-up summer school program

District officials also harped on mitigating further learning loss via the “summer slide” when students naturally regress over summer break. The district hopes 65,600 students will participate in its scaled-up summer school program called Summer 305, with intensive reading and math instruction for students behind grade level.

Alves said through summer school, the district will have more data to further intervene during the 2021-22 school year.

Sylvia Diaz, the district’s chief academic officer, said federal dollars were earmarked for additional interventionists and tutors to work with students during the day and before and after school. She said her department is meeting with human resources regularly to meet personnel needs for the upcoming school year.

“The dollars are definitely there,” Diaz said. “I guess my question mark becomes do we find enough people.”

Carvalho said the district is preparing “a very handsome package” to attract talent. He said measures that have previously worked for the district include “significant compensation” and a summer teaching assignment. The district is also looking to bring back recently retired, high-performing teachers.

School Board Member Marta Perez said she worried about “overworked soldiers” — teachers who have burnt out.

Carvalho said he understood the fatigue and that the district would “strike a balance” in favor of recognizing what motivates teachers.

“The issue of fatigue is applicable to students, for those who have been online all year. They’re fatigued, their eyes are fatigued, their parents are fatigued,” he said. “It’s applicable to those who have been working in the classrooms, it’s applicable to our school site administrators, it’s applicable to non-school site administrators. It’s applicable to the entire world.”

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