Educators working to get students back on track after learning loses

Students across western Massachusetts are getting ready to head back to the classroom, but educators are expecting another year of academic challenges.
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 8:17 PM EDT
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CHICOPEE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - Students across western Massachusetts are getting ready to head back to the classroom, but educators are expecting another year of academic challenges caused by learning loss from the COVD-19 pandemic.

“This is not a year fix. This is a multiyear fix,” said Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.

In less than one week, halls will be flooded with students who are hoping to have a normal school year from start to finish – no masks, no social distancing, just learning – which they haven’t experienced since 2019.

“The expectations back in July and August of the summer of 2021 was that we would be coming back in a fairly normal environment and then omnicron struck and things changed rapidly…By most assessment of superintendents, principals, and teachers, it was tougher than the year before,” Scott added.

Scott told Western Mass News that it has been a challenge to assess kids, adapt curriculum, and implement additional support systems as educators work to close learning gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is such a disparity between where kids are. Some kids by the nature of where they live or the environment that they are in probably have a lot of support, so maybe that was minimal disruption to them. Where some kids were completely disrupted and did not have support that they needed, so the gaps even became greater,” Scott explained.

Chicopee Public Schools is one district in western Massachusetts hoping for a rebound year academically. Assistant Superintendent Matthew Francis told Western Mass News he projects the learning gap in their schools to take at least three years to close.

“When you looked at the data, ELA might have taken a single digit decrease and math took a double-digit decrease,” Francis said.

In taking a look at the percentage of students who are meeting or exceeding expectations on English Language Arts assessments in grades three through eight, 42 percent of students met that benchmark in 2019 compared to 32 percent in 2021. Grade 10 saw a decrease from 47 percent in 2019 to 44 percent in 2021.

Larger gaps were reported in math. For grade 10, 42 percent met or exceeded expectations in 2019 compared to only 31 percent in 2021, but the biggest decline was reported for grades three through eight with 41 percent having met or exceeded expectations in 2019 to just 19 percent in 2019.

“We had seen and projected that [kindergarten] through [grade] three was going to be an issue with early literacy, so we put programs in place to combat that…For example, in regards to literacy for phonemic awareness programs, Hagerty, which is a phonemic literacy skills program we put that into place for the fall of last school year. In addition, we got different grant money to do a math acceleration academy,” Francis explained.

Additional support extends beyond just academic programs. The district hired five school adjustment counselors to focus on social emotional learning as well.

“You saw the social emotional gap of what a typical pre-COVID student was projecting that coincides with the behavioral gap as well, so we really have to adjust and provide a lot of different resources via personalize or program wise to try to adjust,” Francis said.