NEW JERSEY -- Area politicians and education advocates are now discussing ways to improve student proficiency in English language arts and math after a recent study of New Jersey schools found significant drops during the COVID-19 pandemic.

JerseyCAN, a nonprofit focused on advocating for high-quality schools for all New Jersey students, released the first statewide study, “A Time to Act: COVID-19 Academic Slide in New Jersey,” to quantify learning loss for students during the 2020-21 school year. Compared to 2019 statewide proficiency numbers for students in grades 3 to 8, there is a projected 24 percentile point drop in ELA proficiency and a 23 percentile point drop in math proficiency.

Upon release of the report’s findings, state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz on Tuesday joined Urban League of Essex County President Vivian Cox-Fraser and JerseyCAN Executive Director Patricia Morgan to discuss what can be done to close the learning gap. 

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“Today’s report is not a chance to say ‘Look how terrible we are doing’ or ‘It’s the fault of this or that,’” Ruiz said. “It’s a roadmap for all of us to come together and say, ‘We have a very unique opportunity right now to look at the data, talk about policy in a truthful setting, and to use the generous amount of resources that are coming into the state and districts to deal with the current impacted pandemic learning loss.’” 

The study revealed that across the board students lost significant amounts of expected learning in the first half of the 2020-21 school year, with Black and Latinx students losing more learning than their peers.

On average, New Jersey students lost 30% of expected learning in ELA and 36% of expected learning in math, but the loss was greater for Black students, who lost on average 43% in ELA and 50% in math, according to the report. Similarly, Latinx students lost 37% of expected learning in ELA and 40% in math, according to the report. 

“While economically disadvantaged students experienced a learning loss of approximately 40% in ELA, similar to their more affluent peers, they experienced a greater expected learning loss in math of 43% compared to just 33% for non-economically disadvantaged students,” the report read. 

The report indicates that if learning loss continues, approximately 393,000 students in ELA and 430,000 students just in grades 3 to 8 will not be on grade level by the end of this school year. These numbers include students who were not on grade level before the pandemic as well as students who are projected to be off grade level due to the disruptions caused by COVID. 

“Our low-income, Black and brown communities are bearing the brunt of the COVID crisis - not just when it comes to the virus itself, but the long-term impacts of a year away from school buildings,” said Cox-Fraser. “This study should be a call to action for those of us who care about equity in our communities.”

As the learning gap among minority students is further exacerbated by the pandemic, Kyle Rosenkrans, executive director of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation, called for efforts to address the matter. 

Although the numbers paint a grim picture for New Jersey students if the learning gap is not addressed, the education advocates did highlight multiple steps that can be taken to mitigate the issue. 

Among calls for prioritization and adoption of extensive summer programming, research-based solutions for accelerating student learning like high-dosage tutoring and encouraging all districts to adopt high-quality instructional materials that are aligned to statewide assessments, the state has also stepped in. 

After several Newark education advocates called on Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration in February to address learning loss during the pandemic, the governor answered the bell weeks later. 

In the coming weeks, JerseyCAN officials will release additional briefs that feature best practices on accelerating learning and the effective use of these federal resources. Upcoming briefs will also call for specific supports to address student and staff social and emotional wellbeing and mental health, individualized learning plans for each student, tools for parents to understand and support students’ needs, and educator support and innovative staffing.

“It is critically important that our leaders use these funds to implement proven solutions to help our students get up to speed before the upcoming school year begins,” JerseyCAN Executive Director Patricia Morgan said. “Our schools must implement high-quality interventions to accelerate student learning and get as many students back on track as soon as possible.”


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