6 Ways Policymakers Can Support Learning in 2021-22 and Beyond

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Written by: Karyn Lewis and Katie Carroll
Sept. 16, 2021
This guest post comes from Karyn Lewis, senior research scientist, and Katie Carroll, director of policy and state engagement at NWEA. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

The phrase “back-to-school” has taken on a whole new meaning as students across the country are returning to the classroom —  many for the first time after months of learning at home. Looking back to understand how the disruptions from the past two school years have affected students’ learning is critical as leaders plan for how to support education recovery and transformation in the coming year and beyond.  

NWEA researchers recently released new findings to help show how students’ achievement has been impacted thus far. The results reveal the following trends in student learning over the 2020-21 school year:  

    • Reading achievement was a bright spot in the fall of 2020. However, in 2020-21 we now see that reading achievement is no longer holding steady, but rather shows evidence of declines, although not as large as those in math.
    • Math achievement was doubly impacted this year. Students started the 2020-21 school year with lower achievement than prior years and made below average gains over the course of the year. As a result, spring 2021 math achievement fell even further behind historical trends.
    • Our data shows that American Indian and Alaska Native, Black, and Latinx students, and students attending under-resourced schools with the highest levels of poverty experienced the largest achievement declines. These declines are greater in math than reading and for younger students.   

Altogether, these results highlight that the pandemic had a greater impact on historically underserved students and exacerbated pre-existing inequities in educational outcomes.  

These findings only speak to how students have fared academically this last year, but the pandemic’s impact on students extends far beyond test scores. Given the breadth and depth of these impacts, students, educators, and families will benefit from comprehensive supports and services this school year and beyond.  

Thus, policymakers can use national and state trends, holistic data about their local context, and the influx of federal funding to develop and implement a strategic, comprehensive set of equity-focused policies that can transform their education system. As policy leaders work with stakeholders to develop local recovery plans that address the challenges facing students, educators and families, they can  consider the following policy options released by NWEA:  

1. Re-engage all students, with a focus on historically underserved students, by deploying intentional strategies for identifying and connecting with students and families that were disconnected or missing during the pandemic.  

2. Continue to support access to remote learning technology by providing all students with access to high-speed internet and develop user-friendly parent and community engagement platforms 

3. Attend to the physical, social and mental health needs of students and families by partnering with community organizations and providing health services in schools 

4. Measure student progress and use data to support recovery by evaluating student needs and progress continuously through the 2021-22 school year and beyond using a variety of holistic student measures of success 

5. Support teachers and leaders by investing in a strong teacher pipeline and attend to the mental and physical health needs of educators.  

6. Reimagine accountability by aligning system indicators to state specific COVID-19 recovery plans in the short-term and explore how to provide additional insight on student and school success in the long-term.  

Equipped with data, a fierce commitment to equity and a comprehensive vision for student learning, state leaders can collectively transform education systems so that all learners reach their full potential.  

Author profile

Karyn Lewis

Author profile

Katie Carroll

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