Photo Credit: Tennessee Department of Education / Facebook
The Center Square [By Jon Styf] –
Tennessee reported wider improvements at the elementary school level than the middle school level in summer learning camps created to make up for learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Testing was done in math and English and Language Arts (ELA) before and after the summer as more than 120,000 students statewide took place in the camps, which were paid for by federal pandemic relief money.
The largest improvements were in elementary math, where students improved their results by 11.66 percentage points.
“For math … it declines faster but it grows faster,” Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said Wednesday. “… Most importantly, we did not see differences between our economically disadvantaged and not academically disadvantaged peers.”
The state set aside $116.8 million in pandemic relief funding for the summer program with an additional $18.5 million to pay for transportation. Not all school districts have submitted reimbursement for the summer programs, but one-third of the summer camp funding ($44.7 million) has been spent, along with 35% of the transportation funds.
“Districts close their books throughout the fall, so many of our districts have not fully closed their books, and so that means that those reimbursements have not yet come in or they are still pending in process,” Schwinn said. “… We do expect that the full amount will be drawn down based on what we are seeing from what has been submitted and early reports.”
K-8 students had a 10.49 percentage-point improvement in math, and the average middle school specific improvement was 6 percentage points.
ELA scores improved 5.97 percentage points overall over the summer with a 7.34 percentage-point increase at the elementary school level and a 0.66 percentage-point increase in middle school.
“What we were balancing this year is to make sure that we were keeping assessments as brief as possible and maximizing instructional minutes,” Schwinn said. “… It is not a full [Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program] assessment. I do not think it is appropriate to give students a three-hour test at the beginning and end of the summer program.
“It does give us a directional sense of improvement.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, welcomed the improvement scores but said it’s too early to celebrate.
“I think the sample size of the students who attended summer school is pretty small, and I’d wait until we find out more about this school year and the 1 million students who have struggled this year through the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and classes shutting down for weeks due to quarantines and the lack of consistent opportunities for remote learning during those quarantines,” Dixie said in a statement. “Without taking a deep dive into the data, I applaud any learning gains but remain concerned that the lack of leadership from the Governor will wipe out any modest gains the Summer Learning Camps may have provided.”
Schwinn said her department received feedback and will attempt to embed some of the assessment program into the instructional work next summer.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said it was good to see the progress “after the work that we have done this past year to really address the challenges that our kids have faced throughout the pandemic, particularly the challenge of learning loss that we knew was coming as a result of time away from the classroom.
“We anticipated the struggles that we knew were coming. … Because of that understanding of what was coming, we decided early to be swift, to be bold and to lead in this effort, so we called a special session in January.”
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Tennessee public schools will receive $4.5 billion in federal relief between spring 2020 and fall 2023.
The largest portion of those funds, $3.58 billion, go directly to Local Education Associations (LEA). Also being allocated are $385 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER), $126 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds, $150 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) and $45 million in competitive federal grants.
The state had reimbursed 77% of its ESSER 1.0 funds and 21% of ESSER 2.0 funds as of Sept. 15. The end dates for the three phases of ESSER funding are September 2022, 2023 and 2024.
About the Author: Jon Styf, The Center Square Staff Reporter – Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies. Follow Jon on Twitter @JonStyf.