News

Learning loss and achievement gaps top discussion on school reopening

An empty courtyard at Fletcher Middle School in Palo Alto on April 3. State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond expects the state's guidance on reopening schools to include suggestions for assessing students' academic progress. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Some California students are "going completely uneducated right now," and districts must address the learning loss and achievement gaps, the president of the State Board of Education said Tuesday.

During a webinar hosted by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the education board, said that there is a great disparity in what districts have done to educate students since schools closed in March due to the coronavirus. Some have had difficulty reaching students who have disappeared for a variety of reasons, she said, including going back to their home countries. Other students were just "sitting it out," because they lacked computer devices or internet access.

"We have to figure out quality standards," she said. "That is in process, and we'll be working on that with districts over the coming weeks."

The three panelists discussed a variety of learning options that could be considered by districts. These included prioritizing in-person instruction for the most vulnerable students and "mastery-based" instruction that allows students to work at their own pace and move on when they understand the material. They all agreed that it will be essential to also provide students with needed social and emotional support.

In addition, Darling-Hammond elaborated on details expected to be included in the upcoming guidance, such as suggested ways to assess students' learning and academic progress.

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Like many districts, Johnson-Trammell said Oakland Unified is planning for online learning and a blend of online and in-person instruction. But she said she is hungry for information about what other districts are doing and which learning models work best. The district has formed action teams focused on learning, wellness, technology, finance, operations and community. They expect to create a plan by early July that will take into consideration science, safety, staff supports and student learning, she said.

Based on informal feedback so far, she said the district is considering prioritizing in-person instruction for its most vulnerable students. This is likely to include younger children, those who are medically fragile or have moderate to severe disabilities, and those who are two or more grade levels behind academically. They will need more personal contact, she said, in order to "get the nuts and bolts."

Hanushek, of the Hoover Institute, said schools should consider taking this opportunity to tackle achievement gaps that have existed for 50 years between students in higher-income and lower-income families.

"We could potentially use this crisis to really strike at the inequities that exist in California and elsewhere in the country," he said, suggesting that schools switch to a mastery-based model of instruction instead of teaching everyone at the same pace. This would allow schools to focus more attention on individual students "and where they're at and what they're learning and how they progress," he said.

It's critical to assess students, he said, especially since standardized testing was suspended this spring due to the coronavirus.

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Hanushek said testing helps shine a light on the disadvantages some students face and shows they are not getting the education they deserve.

"We have to be able to measure where we're at and try to use that to leverage improvement," he said.

Johnson-Trammell said thinking about how much learning some students may be losing during the school closures keeps her up at night.

"Summer slide doesn't even begin to describe" what's happening, she said. She wants guidance about how to diagnose students to address their learning needs, as well as their social and emotional needs.

One idea she suggested is that teachers who are strong in building connections with students could shift to focusing entirely on supporting their social and emotional needs. Teachers who are strongest in communicating curriculum could possibly teach more subjects. She said her district wants to know how other districts are thinking about reconfiguring staffing.

Darling-Hammond said the state guidance will likely include information about how to use the Smarter Balanced Interim Assessments to gauge where students are. She said one problem with the end-of-year tests has been that they assess students within a grade level but don't show gains students have made if they are below or above grade level.

"We are all learning every day," she said. "We need to say to kids: 'We need to figure out where you are and accelerate your progress,' rather than, 'We're going to label you as smart or dumb, above or below (grade level), and put you in a class and teach to the average,' which is going to miss what they need and give them a sense of stigma at the same time."

To help give students a sense of continuity and better assess them, Darling-Hammond said "some districts are looking at sending kids back to teachers they had last year."

She also said that some districts are considering a "competency based" model of instruction rather than "grade-level-specific" curriculum, which she compared to swimming lessons, where students progress sequentially as their skills develop. "It's an opportunity," she said. "And some places will be able to take advantage of it if we get the resources."

Hanushek agreed with both Johnson-Trammell and Darling-Hammond regarding possible ways to restructure instruction.

"My fear is in the chaos of just trying to make sure kids know how to get into the building that we won't think about that early enough," he said, referring to all the work districts are also doing to figure out how to provide physical distancing and other safety precautions.

Johnson-Trammell said her district is planning to deliver high-quality instruction, along with ongoing food distribution. It's also focusing on safety issues, including face masks, physical distancing and possibly taking students' temperatures each day. All this with the understanding that no one knows whether there will be a surge of coronavirus cases that could close schools again.

"We're planning for conditions that will continue to shift," she said, adding that districts need to adapt and be nimble. "We have to get a bit more comfortable with the unknown."

This story was originally published in EdSource.

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Learning loss and achievement gaps top discussion on school reopening

by /

Uploaded: Sat, Jun 6, 2020, 7:56 am

Some California students are "going completely uneducated right now," and districts must address the learning loss and achievement gaps, the president of the State Board of Education said Tuesday.

During a webinar hosted by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the education board, said that there is a great disparity in what districts have done to educate students since schools closed in March due to the coronavirus. Some have had difficulty reaching students who have disappeared for a variety of reasons, she said, including going back to their home countries. Other students were just "sitting it out," because they lacked computer devices or internet access.

"We have to figure out quality standards," she said. "That is in process, and we'll be working on that with districts over the coming weeks."

The three panelists discussed a variety of learning options that could be considered by districts. These included prioritizing in-person instruction for the most vulnerable students and "mastery-based" instruction that allows students to work at their own pace and move on when they understand the material. They all agreed that it will be essential to also provide students with needed social and emotional support.

In addition, Darling-Hammond elaborated on details expected to be included in the upcoming guidance, such as suggested ways to assess students' learning and academic progress.

Like many districts, Johnson-Trammell said Oakland Unified is planning for online learning and a blend of online and in-person instruction. But she said she is hungry for information about what other districts are doing and which learning models work best. The district has formed action teams focused on learning, wellness, technology, finance, operations and community. They expect to create a plan by early July that will take into consideration science, safety, staff supports and student learning, she said.

Based on informal feedback so far, she said the district is considering prioritizing in-person instruction for its most vulnerable students. This is likely to include younger children, those who are medically fragile or have moderate to severe disabilities, and those who are two or more grade levels behind academically. They will need more personal contact, she said, in order to "get the nuts and bolts."

Hanushek, of the Hoover Institute, said schools should consider taking this opportunity to tackle achievement gaps that have existed for 50 years between students in higher-income and lower-income families.

"We could potentially use this crisis to really strike at the inequities that exist in California and elsewhere in the country," he said, suggesting that schools switch to a mastery-based model of instruction instead of teaching everyone at the same pace. This would allow schools to focus more attention on individual students "and where they're at and what they're learning and how they progress," he said.

It's critical to assess students, he said, especially since standardized testing was suspended this spring due to the coronavirus.

Hanushek said testing helps shine a light on the disadvantages some students face and shows they are not getting the education they deserve.

"We have to be able to measure where we're at and try to use that to leverage improvement," he said.

Johnson-Trammell said thinking about how much learning some students may be losing during the school closures keeps her up at night.

"Summer slide doesn't even begin to describe" what's happening, she said. She wants guidance about how to diagnose students to address their learning needs, as well as their social and emotional needs.

One idea she suggested is that teachers who are strong in building connections with students could shift to focusing entirely on supporting their social and emotional needs. Teachers who are strongest in communicating curriculum could possibly teach more subjects. She said her district wants to know how other districts are thinking about reconfiguring staffing.

Darling-Hammond said the state guidance will likely include information about how to use the Smarter Balanced Interim Assessments to gauge where students are. She said one problem with the end-of-year tests has been that they assess students within a grade level but don't show gains students have made if they are below or above grade level.

"We are all learning every day," she said. "We need to say to kids: 'We need to figure out where you are and accelerate your progress,' rather than, 'We're going to label you as smart or dumb, above or below (grade level), and put you in a class and teach to the average,' which is going to miss what they need and give them a sense of stigma at the same time."

To help give students a sense of continuity and better assess them, Darling-Hammond said "some districts are looking at sending kids back to teachers they had last year."

She also said that some districts are considering a "competency based" model of instruction rather than "grade-level-specific" curriculum, which she compared to swimming lessons, where students progress sequentially as their skills develop. "It's an opportunity," she said. "And some places will be able to take advantage of it if we get the resources."

Hanushek agreed with both Johnson-Trammell and Darling-Hammond regarding possible ways to restructure instruction.

"My fear is in the chaos of just trying to make sure kids know how to get into the building that we won't think about that early enough," he said, referring to all the work districts are also doing to figure out how to provide physical distancing and other safety precautions.

Johnson-Trammell said her district is planning to deliver high-quality instruction, along with ongoing food distribution. It's also focusing on safety issues, including face masks, physical distancing and possibly taking students' temperatures each day. All this with the understanding that no one knows whether there will be a surge of coronavirus cases that could close schools again.

"We're planning for conditions that will continue to shift," she said, adding that districts need to adapt and be nimble. "We have to get a bit more comfortable with the unknown."

This story was originally published in EdSource.

Comments

Silver Linings
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 6, 2020 at 10:01 am
Silver Linings, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 6, 2020 at 10:01 am
25 people like this

Mastery-based instruction is long-overdue, and while I’m sorry it took the pandemic to jumpstart the district on the idea, I’m glad that it’s finally here.

I do want to caution that the state and districts should take a page from homeschooling experience on that one. Master-based instructions works well only if students are motivated and self-directed learners. There is a very unfortunate fixed-mindset when it comes to learning motivation and students in school. That comes about because the Prussian model inculcates a kind of learned helplessness—it was designed to do that. Students rebel, and one of the ways they rebel is by making efforts to look like they are doing what they are told but not really engaging.

You can’t just switch to master-based instruction and expect students to be engaged learners simply because you’ve switched the teaching model. Homeschoolers learn that there is a necessary transition time, which is longer the longer kids have schooled in the Prussian model, and that transition time has some necessary components.

One of the telling signs that our district students (and most districts' students) have not learned to be self-directed is simply this idea that they couldn’t learn the AP material on their own when school switched to online. Or that students would get behind if they weren’t physically present in school. Don’t get me wrong, there are many advantages to students being in school. But the ability of students to learn isn’t and shouldn’t be one of them.

Schools are not doing students any favors if they are not teaching them, at every level, to be lifelong learners. They need to teach the basics, but along with that, the most important thing they can impart is how to be lifelong learners, not just in traditional ways, with the motivation to do so. Had they done this, when the pandemic hit, they could have focused on ensuring students had the basics of what they needed, with the confidence that they would all still be learning.

Even without online access, after an appropriate 2-week closure, a covid-tested librarian could have been taking a bookmobile around to all students without adequate online access. Just having the time to read could put many students way ahead of their peers upon return. But have the students learned to LOVE learning, and love reading? Again, the most important element there is helping students to be lifelong learners, helping them to be self-directed and independent.

There again, homeschoolers have learned a lot that schools could benefit from, especially since studies of homeschooling test scores show no achievement or gender gap (which makes sense when students’ educations are all customized, and also, that students are supported to be self-directed learners so their educations depend less on what they are given every year).


Rebecca Eisenberg
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2020 at 5:50 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2020 at 5:50 pm
19 people like this

Silver Linings: This is an EdSource article, describing the measures that *other* school districts are taking to ensure that children are receiving a high quality education. It is not about measures that are being taken here.

Rather, despite thousands of loud, clear, vocal demands - and pleas - from Palo Alto public school parents that our District wire classrooms and prepare, at very least, for a full online education option, no such plans have been made or promised. This past quarter, many (or most) middle and high school students had, at most, 3 hours of interactive instruction a week -- many had even less.

No matter how partially and in what way our public schools open in fall, the one thing that is *inevitable* is that at least 25% of all students - likely more - will be educated remotely.

Yet our Superintendent and School Board are unwilling to promise that our children will be given anything close to our state-mandated instructional minutes, nor are they taking the steps necessary (like, at very least, wiring classrooms) to ensure that all students will be able to access - much less, participate in - classroom instruction.

One would think that in such a highly educated city like Palo Alto, our School Board meetings could discuss important issues such as whether we should embrace "masterly level instruction." Instead, parents queue up and point to countless school districts, including our closest neighbor districts, who figured out how to continue to educate the students at home, while our elected school board trustees and their new Superintendent mis-state results of their own surveys, insist that "synchronous" classes are possible, and refuse to take any of the steps necessary to improve the situation in the fall.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2020 at 5:51 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2020 at 5:51 pm
Like this comment

(That should be "insist that synchronous classes are NOT possible -- or DENY that synchronous classes are possible!)


Matters
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 7, 2020 at 9:34 pm
Matters, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 7, 2020 at 9:34 pm
10 people like this

Time to teach all the kids equally rather than telling them to teach themselves or fail honors or AP classes very few minorities are in the top paly classes because of this ridiculous warning in the catalogues. Only the wealthy can pay for the missing instruction and have enjoyed this advantage from k -12


ResidentPA
Fairmeadow
on Jun 7, 2020 at 9:47 pm
ResidentPA, Fairmeadow
on Jun 7, 2020 at 9:47 pm
1 person likes this

I'm not sure what it means to "teach the kids equally", but ideally teachers would reach all kids where they are. In practice there is only so much time and I expect they will focus more on the under achievers. The other kids will be left to their own devices (or their own parallel tutoring/teaching system) for better or worse. Bummer if you can't afford your own teaching but do well in school, you get to fall behind in a new way.

I wish tutoring were banned so the schools could better see where the kids need help and so there were more kids at normal levels. It really messes up our schools. Our own non-genius and non-under-achieving kids have never had and will never have private tutors, we don't believe in it. They will do fine though they think they are dumber than they are.


Sally
Downtown North
on Jun 8, 2020 at 7:21 am
Sally, Downtown North
on Jun 8, 2020 at 7:21 am
19 people like this

In recent years, PAUSD has talked about education as if it is a zero-sum game. As if one student's success means another student's travail.

That broken analogy needs to stop. This isn't a silly sports competition. This is the enrichment of human potentials, lives, and passion.

One board member continuously talks about an "arms race" of achievement. This analogy is disturbing. Though surely a few families do unhealthily pursue academics for status, by and large that is not the Palo Altoans that I know. One kid's learning enriches them and their community. Imagine truly thinking that educating one kid takes away from or competes with someone else.

In short, mastery learning and progress would be beautiful. But I don't trust it for a minute with this district. It will be a very mediocre bar, with effort aimed only at the lowest, and everyone else will have to fend for themselves... The sad reality of tutoring and the kitchen table being the only paths to academic excellence will continue in Palo Alto.


Silver Linings
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 9:56 am
Silver Linings, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 9:56 am
7 people like this

Time to teach all the kids equally rather than telling them to teach themselves or fail honors or AP classes very few minorities are in the top paly classes...”

Telling kids who have been immersed in the learned helplessness of the Prussian model to teach themselves is obviously a problem. But the goal of school from the get go should be to support kids to be self-directed learners.

You’ve heard the old adage, give a person a fish, feed them for a day; teach them to fish, feed them for a lifetime. School should be to teach kids to learn, not to force feed them with facts. If school had been all about supporting kids to be self-directed learners, they could all have easily transitioned after the lockdown regardless of problems on the school end. They should not have needed someone to teach them or else they couldn’t learn.

This wasn’t just local, it was national, as evidenced by the college board testing APs on only the first 3 months of material. Presumably all the kids had the books and could read, but it’s sad that one couldn’t presume they could learn for themselves.

Especially in this new world, the focus of school should be:
-The basics of reading, writing, and communicating
-Exposure to and exploration of all knowledge of the natural world and human endeavor
-Learning how to be citizens of a democracy
-Learning how to learn for themselves in a self-directed way

What happens to kids who graduate from high school who didn’t fundamentally learn for themselves?

My kid wrote after transitioning to self-directed education that they hadn’t realized how dependent they had become on external direction in school. This is baked into the Prussian model of education. It’s not an inherent difference between homeschool and school, it just is a difference now because homeschoolers often homeschool in order to become self-directed learners. This could happen for kids in school, too, and in fact that is a big potential silver lining of. being forced to adapt to the pandemic. Self-direction goes hand in hand with mastery-based learning, but it doesn’t just happen.

Kids who are inculcated in the Prussian model need a transition or it doesn’t work well. Homeschoolers call this deschooling, but I’ve heard Esther Wojcicki talk about observing something similar in her Moonshots talks (about teaching struggling English learners but giving them agency, and how it took time to transition).

So, teaching kids to have that Prussian-model helplessness then telling them to teach themselves would be disastrous fir many. Supporting them to be independent learners and giving them lots of opportunities and resources makes them lifelong learners and means that if they temporarily lose access to many resources, they can all still learn. Very different. I think the pandemic is a time for our district to take stock and start doing the latter.


Silver Linings
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 10:13 am
Silver Linings, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 10:13 am
6 people like this

Assuming that minority or poor students are inherently less capable of learning is one of the biases that causes an achievement gap. Studies of homeschoolers find either no achievement gap or that homeschooled minority and poor students do better than in school. (This presumed actual independent education which is not simply withdrawing kids from school.). This is why ironically black students are the fastest-growing segment of homeschooling. Note that one of the articles below talks about how working through or with public education programs can be even better, this is not about public education versus not. It’s about self-directed and mastery-based learning, and having the support, freedom and flexibility to do that. OUR DISTRICT COULD USE THE DISRUPTIONS TO FINALLY ACHIEVE THIS FOR PIR STUDENTS.
Web Link
African American homeschoolers are the fastest growing demographic

Web Link
Black homeschooled students score better.

I just learned of a study of homeschoolers in Alaska that found that poor and minority students in the study improved significantly because of honeschooling versus school. Again, understanding why and understanding independent education could allow schools to give our kids the best of all worlds.


Silver Linings
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 10:19 am
Silver Linings, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 10:19 am
5 people like this

Sorry, small screen errors

OUR DISTRICT COULD USE THE DISRUPTIONS TO FINALLY ACHIEVE THIS FOR OUR STUDENTS.


Matters
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 9, 2020 at 1:58 pm
Matters, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 9, 2020 at 1:58 pm
7 people like this

AJ tutoring collects 100 per hour for many students and know what has not been taught because they profile classes and tests and teachers. I think an honors class with a bad teacher so honors bio. Makes 2 visits per week for say 39 kids times about 5 months. Wow great business and the reason for the achievement gap and why minorities can not take upper level classes.


Sally
Downtown North
on Jun 9, 2020 at 5:38 pm
Sally, Downtown North
on Jun 9, 2020 at 5:38 pm
10 people like this

@Matters

I agree with you. It is important to clarify, though, that the tutoring is the result of PAUSD's problem. A symptom, not the cause. The path to supporting everyone is to get tougher in weeding out those parts of PAUSD that are really sub-par.

Kids without means are for sure hurt the most. Are we tough enough, do we care enough, to fight for them when it is the teachers' union protecting the harm? That's no easy fight, so we need to pressure or replace our board and leadership for it to happen.

Many strands of the PAUSD experience are quite good, but this all still applies.


Sir Topham Hatt
Menlo Park
on Jun 9, 2020 at 11:40 pm
Sir Topham Hatt, Menlo Park
on Jun 9, 2020 at 11:40 pm
1 person likes this

A tutoring ban would not be that hard- PAUSD could hire Plantier to mine google and Facebook data to conclusively determine which kids were getting tutoring. These children’s grades could all be dropped 1-2 points in GPA to level things out.


iconoclast
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2020 at 1:51 am
iconoclast, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2020 at 1:51 am
6 people like this

@Sir, it would be easier and more instructive to just tax high GPAs and redistribute the points. Teach these kids what they can look forward to in the real world.


matter
Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2020 at 10:05 am
matter, Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2020 at 10:05 am
Like this comment

I am going to say that the kids stuck at AJ tutoring are also being hurt, but they get gpa "currency" to spend for college admission.


The district person in charge of curriculum asks the teachers what they teach and how they asses kids and then never looks or walks out of her tiny little comfy room. Totally disconnected to the students that are supposed to be served. There are really no minorities in the honors or ap classes because they are literally told they have to do it all themselves and they know they are up against kids who can pay for tutoring or have parents that will not let them fail.


Silver Linings
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2020 at 10:35 am
Silver Linings, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 10, 2020 at 10:35 am
5 people like this

There are many things about our child’s elementary experience that were positive so I’m not complaining. But good academic basics were not one of them. The ignored learning disability and unaccomodated special needs turned into an intellectually-languishing profoundly gifted child who could neither keyboard nor hand write well upon entry into HIGH SCHOOL, and and grossly undereducated in middle school because of it.

Homeschooling for high school was the only option for reversing the damage, but we would have preferred working with the district for independent study or a hybrid. Same kid did very well in high school despite struggling to overcome deficits in district education and did very well focusing high school on learning and personal growth. A hybrid would have been even better.

This isn’t just a silver lining, it’s a golden opportunity, if the district is willing to seize it.


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