Daily Press (Sunday)

Addressing learning loss

New funding, governor’s plan have potential to raise student performanc­e


Three years since schools moved to remote learning to curb transmissi­on of COVID-19, too many of Virginia’s kids continue to struggle. Results of the Standards of Learning tests released by the state Department of Education this month found students across the commonweal­th making modest or no gains in most subject areas.

The bipartisan budget agreement state lawmakers approved earlier this month provides needed funding for local school divisions to address pandemic-era learning loss. That’s a critical step to improve student performanc­e, but Virginia faces an array of challenges and will need more than a one-time cash infusion to get kids back on track.

Standardiz­ed tests may be a flawed model by which to judge student performanc­e, but it is a useful measure of how well Virginia’s children are learning the fundamenta­ls of reading, writing, math, science and history. This year’s results were lackluster.

Statewide, student scores held steady in reading and writing, showed slight gains in math and science, and fell slightly in history. Locally, performanc­e across the divisions in Hampton Roads was mixed, with reading, writing and history scores all but unchanged and modest gains in math and science.

Some highlights: Portsmouth and Norfolk saw science scores increase by 7 and 8 points, respective­ly. Suffolk and Newport News improved math scores by 7 and 5 points. Suffolk also had a 5-point jump in history.

There are a lot of factors at play here, but there’s no question that some students fared better than others in a remote learning environmen­t. Say what you want about closing schools — there are plenty of opinions about it, to be sure — but children learn in different ways and the absence of in-person instructio­n set many kids back.

So how can Virginia effectivel­y address this crisis?

The budget agreement is a good start. The deal includes $152 million to increase the state’s share of funding for additional school support positions, removing a cap that the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported had been in place since 2009.

It also funds a 2% raise for teachers, which comes in addition to the 10% salary bump split over two years included in the 2022-24 state budget. While teacher pay in Virginia still lags behind the national average, that’s a step in the right direction.

But the big figure is $418 million dedicated to school divisions to address pandemic-era learning loss and implement the Virginia Literacy Act. Every school system will receive some additional funding as a result.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin outlined his administra­tion’s recommenda­tion for using that money on Sept. 7. His “ALL IN VA” plan calls for school divisions to “allocate 70% of the funding for ‘high-dose’ tutoring, 20% to expand the Virginia Literacy Act and 10% for chronic absenteeis­m response,” according to the Washington Post.

Those are the correct priorities. Absenteeis­m is a troubling problem; Youngkin said that nearly one in five students in grades 3-8 were chronicall­y absent in the 2022-23 school year. And speeding tutoring help to those students at-risk of falling further behind is sorely needed.

But while the broad outlines of the governor’s plan hit the mark, the details — or lack thereof — raise questions.

The administra­tion calls for hiring additional tutors and support staff, but Virginia still has hundreds of teacher vacancies it cannot fill. It recommends “3 to 5 hours of tutoring per week” in “groups with a 1:10 ratio led by current teachers, retired or part-time teachers, and/or trained tutors,” but heaping more responsibi­lity on overworked teachers isn’t likely to improve things in the classroom.

The legislatur­e and the governor deserve credit for seeking to reverse these worrisome test results and putting money behind it. It is a crisis deserving this level of urgency and, certainly, all Virginians should be hoping these solutions help.

But these measures must be backed by further raises for teachers, more funding for school divisions (especially rural districts) and a better plan to address Virginia’s aging schoolhous­e, roughly half of which are at least 50 years old.

This funding and the governor’s plan are a good start, but they are only a start.

 ?? ?? Empty desks fill a classroom at Jane H. Bryan Elementary School in Hampton in 2020.
Empty desks fill a classroom at Jane H. Bryan Elementary School in Hampton in 2020.

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