As Secretary of Education, I’ve traveled to 35 states and talked with countless students, families and educators. In every conversation, it’s clear: The pandemic has had profound impacts on our children and youth. Our students’ academic performance will reflect these impacts – as well as inequities in educational opportunity that preceded and continued through the pandemic.
The latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress confirms this, showing long-term trends for America’s 9-year-olds in reading and math. While NAEP scores were not increasing before March 2020, these results show that we cannot be complacent about accelerating our students’ academic outcomes.
Data can help sharpen focus to accelerate student growth
From Day One of this administration, President Joe Biden recognized these threats the pandemic would have on our students’ academic progress. It’s why he made it the Department of Education’s top priority to get schools safely reopened for in-person learning and to get students back into classrooms. We did – but we know it’s not enough. That’s also why under President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, we’ve directed over $130 billion in funding to school districts across the country to keep schools open and help them accelerate student learning.
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This data should serve as a further call to action for states, districts and communities to use these funds quickly, effectively and on strategies we know work. We must raise the bar for our students now and use the resources we have to meet that bar. We must recognize this moment for the urgency it carries: Our students – and the progress of our country – depend on it.
While we use this new data to help sharpen and focus our plans to accelerate student growth, we also know that many of our students are on track to make significant academic progress this school year.
Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics – which are not reflected in this week’s NAEP results – show that a substantial portion of students who were behind grade level in at least one subject last school year caught up in time for summer break this year. At the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, about half of students were behind grade level in at least one subject, according to school leaders. But by the end of the school year, that percentage declined to 36%.
Initial state assessment results in places like Indiana and Connecticut also show that many students made enough progress to close some of the pandemic-related achievement gaps.
This progress is a testament to the enduring impacts our educators and school staffs can make on helping our students catch up, both academically and developmentally.
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School districts tap federal resources to improve outcomes
In red states and blue states, schools are putting relief funds to work – promoting student learning and following guidance from the department to invest in evidence-based efforts that have the greatest potential to boost student outcomes.
We’ve seen places like Guilford County Schools in North Carolina use millions in federal relief funds to provide nearly 67,000 hours of intensive tutoring their students in the past year alone. In Kentucky, Jefferson County Public Schools are opening student support centers staffed by retired teachers who are committed to using their expertise to provide targeted supports to students.
We launched the National Partnership for Student Success earlier this year, which is bringing together federal, state, local and community partners with the goal of providing 250,000 more tutors and mentors to help support recovery.
Because great teachers are essential to our progress in education, I also issued a call for state, district and higher education leaders to work together to tap federal resources to address the national educator shortage, strengthen the educator pipeline and keep teachers in the classroom.
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States and districts are stepping up. this year, Iowa is using over $45 million in relief funds to create a program to train 500 new teachers and 500 new paraeducators to support and accelerate student recovery across the state.
These examples are just snapshots of progress happening all across the country. But we know we can’t take our foot off the gas. Helping our students not just recover but also thrive will take collective action, dedication and resources from local, state and federal partners. It will require us to listen to the needs of parents, teachers and students who continue to live out the impact of the pandemic in schools and classrooms across the country. It must take a commitment from all of us to use data responsibly – not to punish or label schools or educators, but to allow local leaders to target resources to communities and schools that need them most.
Together, we can ensure that the road to success for our students continues to run straight through America’s public schools, and that the best days in education are ahead of us.
Miguel Cardona is the US Department of Education secretary.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism