It’s Time to Act
We are facing an educational crisis that we know very little about. Research tells us that the “summer slide” is real, meaning that when students are out of school for a few months they forget content that they had already learned. So what does a whole year gone look like? It’s hard to say.
NWEA, a testing organization that has been providing students assessments for 40 years, has preliminary growth data for 4.4 million students based on interim assessments given in fall 2020. These data indicate how much student growth occurred in reading and math between spring 2019 and fall 2020 compared to growth between spring 2018 and fall 2019.
The results aren’t terrible. All grade levels showed some growth in both subjects, with the exception of 5th- and 6th-grade math. The amount of reading growth was similar to the prior year, but the math growth was lower.
So, where’s the crisis? One in four students who should have taken the exam didn’t. Students didn’t take the exam for “economic, health, technological, or other reasons unknown to the educators and researchers.” An analysis of who took the exam and who didn’t revealed troubling results. Across all grades and subjects, the students who did not take the exam were disproportionately ethnic/racial minority students, students with lower achievement in the prior year, and students from schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged students. We’re losing track of our most vulnerable students. While these data are not directly attributable to Missouri, to think that this isn’t true here is to deny reality.
The impact of a full year out of school won’t be known for some time. But we know who is taking the brunt of the blow. Districts have been given a pass on tracking student attendance, even in the virtual-only districts that enroll almost 300,000 Missouri students. Holding districts harmless is harming students. We could be doing more to make sure that these students have an opportunity to stay on track this year.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: 2021 is a year for big ideas and bold actions. All students should be able to use public education funds to go beyond their assigned public school district. All families should be able to access high-quality virtual education, create micro-schools, or enroll their kids in a private school, regardless of family income. Education savings accounts (ESAs) are no longer just a smart idea; they’re a critical need for our most vulnerable students.