The COVID-19 pandemic certainly is causing problems for Kentucky’s public education system, but no one really knows the amount of the impact.
Testing – which could provide better understanding – came to a virtual halt shortly after the pandemic hit.
KPREP testing – cancelled in the spring of 2020.
KPREP testing in 2021 – currently in serious doubt.
ACT college entrance testing – Disrupted in the late winter of 2020. Scores from 2020 still not available and won’t be so long as some districts like Jefferson County remain non-in-person.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests for math and reading in Grades 4 and 8 – Dropped for early 2021. Even if this important test is given next year, it will be late 2022 before it provides any insight about COVID and education.
So, COVID’s impacts on education trends from numerous important testing programs in Kentucky are currently unknown. No one really knows when data will again become available.
The lack of test data makes getting any sort of handle on how COVID-19 has impacted education particularly difficult. However, two news groups in Kentucky did access some interesting grade data that certainly raises concerns that the learning impacts have been, “Drastic.”
First to do a data-based exploration of COVID-related learning problems was WFPL’s Jess Clark, who published “Away From The Classroom, Disadvantaged JCPS Students Fail At Higher Rates” on February 5, 2021. Clark examined grades at the end of the first six-week grading cycle from the fall of 2020 in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS). She found that failure rates for both low- and middle/high-income students in elementary and high schools had not changed much despite the pandemic but middle school failure rates were up sharply across all income levels.
Paradoxically, however, when Clark looked at failure rates by race, she found notable problems in both middle and high schools in JCPS for all the major student racial groups in JCPS.
There were some interesting surprises in Clark’s findings. First, the emphasis currently being placed on getting lower elementary grades back to school first might not be the best policy. Based on the increases in failing grades, Clark’s work indicates that middle schools and possibly high schools should be first priority to reestablish in-person classrooms.
But, the inconsistency of Clark’s findings for high school impacts could indicate her data isn’t as solid as we need, as well. Why did Clark find minimal impact for poor students and middle/high income students in high schools in JCPS while every high school racial group saw notable increases in failure rates?
As a point of interest, Clark published another story, “Pandemic, Remote Learning Compound Low-Income Students’ Struggles” on February 9, 2021. This repeats the findings based on student income levels and then discusses some examples of problems parents are facing as they try to get a better educational situation for their children. One problematic example involves an apparently highly popular education supplement called a “Hub,” which has similarities to what are called “Learning Pods” in other news stories around the country.
Apparently, while a number of hubs are operating in the JCPS system, there are not nearly enough of them to meet the demand. Hubs that do exist in JCPS are mostly full to capacity, and some Hubs in the JCPS area entail costs poor parents simply cannot afford.
The article indicates that the JCPS school system might be partly to blame for the insufficient number of hubs in the school district. Clark says there was an effort to form hubs before the school year began, but provides comments that there wasn’t enough follow-through from the school district.
Returning to our main discussion, COVID learning impact information from Louisville is now joined by data in Valarie Honeycutt Spears’ new article in the Lexington Herald-Leader released on February 19, 2021 titled “‘Drastic.’ Failing grades tripled in Fayette middle and high schools during pandemic.”
“First semester failing grades currently recorded for Fayette middle and high school students in 2020-21 have tripled compared to the first semester of 2019-20 before the COVID-19 school shutdown.”
Using an approach similar to Clark’s, Spears employed Kentucky’s Open Records Law to obtain data on failure rates from the Fayette County Public School District.
To be sure, the increase in failures has been “Drastic,” as the title for Spears’ article summarizes.
There’s also a paradox in Spears’ article. She provides information that only a small number of the district’s 40,521 students, just 122, haven’t made any contact with the school district since the pandemic started. That doesn’t seem like very many lost students.
But, Spears also says that:
“More than half of the failing grades in 2020-21 were given to students who were not participating, including not logging in online, and not turning in assignments, district officials said.”
Note that a graphic in Spears’ report shows across the high school grades between 12% to 21% of the students are failing. So, the statement above implies that somewhere around 6% to 11% of the students really are not engaging and essentially are no shows.
Applying that information across all the grades would mean that somewhere between 2,400 to well over 4,000 students in Fayette County are for all intents and purposes no shows. That’s a hugely different picture from saying just 122 are no shows.
Unlike Clark’s articles, Spears’ article does not provide any information on how low-income and racial minority students fared under COVID compared to wealthier and white students. Perhaps that will come in a future article.
Regarding the apparent COVID impacts on education, even known public school boosters are now worried. Brigitte Blom Ramsey, head of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, made some comments of concern. Per the article:
“The fact is, Ramsey said, long term non-traditional instruction, or NTI, is not working for many students.”
Ramsey noted former “A” students now failing and parents worried about high school seniors getting into college among her concerns.
Still, the actual evidence that Clark and Spears have collected isn’t super solid. What policy makers and Kentucky’s citizens really need is comparative testing data, and that isn’t available. Even worse, there are efforts under way to further delay getting that data by continued postponement of testing.
Those most hurt by this information vacuum will be Kentucky’s students, of course.
It is time for us to acknowledge we need more, not less, data in order to make solid policy decisions going forward and that any more decisions to delay future testing should not be made until the need is absolutely necessary due to schools continuing to remain out of session. Most certainly, current legislation to essentially shut down spring KPREP testing is premature and needs to be reconsidered.
Certainly, as the public education system increasingly shows it isn’t well prepared to handle COVID or the aftermath, parents need to have more choices that extend beyond entrapment in the public school system if their kids are to have a chance to recover from the pandemic’s “drastic” impacts. Such choices include unencumbered abilities to form Hubs or Learning Pods and more extensive choice options that would allow a student to attend whatever school, public or private, that best suits that student’s needs.
- Learning Action Buffet launches project to create racial equity in education – Las Cruces Sun-News
- Education roundup: Stark students named finalists for National Merit Scholarships – Canton Repository
- Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education to receive update on competency-based education – Salisbury Post – Salisbury Post
- South Bay education leaders: Teachers need vaccines faster – San José Spotlight – San José Spotlight
- Education spending on teachers – not buildings — lifts home prices – Lincoln Journal Star
- Maryland state constitution requires free public education, no standard for quality – Fox Baltimore
- EDUCATION BEAT: The genius of acting silly – Bristol Herald Courier
- New York bill would create ‘comprehensive sexuality education’ for kindergarten students – Fox News
- High-Quality Healthcare, Education Systems Highlighted in China’s Two Sessions – Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal