Education advocates urge Tennessee leaders to take steps towards maintaining in-person learning

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Education advocates in Tennessee are pushing for state leaders to do more to maintain in-person learning.

“In the K-12 world, it’s a really tough time right now. That’s a tough time for educators who are making difficult decisions around what’s good for students. And it’s a tough time for families who are making decisions about learning and also health and safety for their own child,” said SCORE President and CEO David Mansouri.

He said as a state, Tennessee needs to do everything possible to prioritize in-person learning experiences for students because that’s where they learn best. Several Middle Tennessee school districts have had to close or switch to remote learning due to rising COVID-19 cases.

“Without really focused, intentional recovery strategies and time in the classroom, that impact will have long term impacts on students, not only in terms of their k-12 experience but their preparedness for college, their ability to obtain a great job, there’s been research that has already shown that there likely will be a wage and salary impact on students later in life in terms of how COVID has impacted learning,” Mansouri said.

Mansouri cited Tennessee’s dismal test scores during the 2020-2021 school year as an example of how the pandemic was affecting students.

“It was very sobering. We saw across the board drops in terms of student proficiency. We saw that about 5%, as an example, drop in literacy for our Black students in Tennessee, we saw that a 12 percentage point drop overall in math proficiency,” Mansouri said. “We know that the impact over the last year and a half has been really significant in terms of student learning.”

He explained that if in-person learning isn’t possible, districts need to make sure quality virtual learning is available for students.

“What I don’t mean is that a packet is sent home with the child and that they’re working through that packet,” he said. “I think what we know is, that it’s engagement with an educator, it’s a teacher engaging virtually, with the student or group of students. It’s using the high-quality curriculum, even in that virtual setting so that there are materials that are being put in front of students, and the teachers are using them to help students progress through the material. And, it’s measuring how students are learning regularly through that virtual learning experience.”

A recent report from SCORE is also raising concerns about how the pandemic will impact college-bound high school students. Their report found that 40% of students who intend to go on to post-secondary education, don’t actually end up enrolling the year after high school graduation. It’s what they call the “summer melt” and they found it also disproportionately affects students of color.

(Source: SCORE)

“We know that at our community colleges, enrollment last year in the midst of the COVID pandemic was down 31% for African American students,” Mansouri said. “The challenges around melt that we saw in this report, we can expect likely will be exacerbated because of because of COVID, which, again, we think is just even more reason why we have to have urgency around supporting students from that transition between high school graduation and then showing up on campus on day one at a post-secondary experience.”

He encourages school districts to include ‘high dosage tutoring’ in their plan for helping students learn during the pandemic. A number of districts, including MNPS, are beginning to advance their tutoring efforts. It’s also a statewide priority for the Tennessee Department of Education.

“When you have a trained tutor that is tutoring with a student multiple times during the week, ideally, actually, during the school day, that they’re getting that additional support, and that additional intervention, and that you do that tutoring experience for multiple weeks, multiple months at a time, that kind of experience, what we call ‘high dosage tutoring’, can really advance and accelerate student learning,” Mansouri explained.

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