NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – Data from the Tennessee Department of Education is showing there is a “significant learning loss” among students in all grades, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The preliminary data released on Wednesday shows an about 50 percent decrease in the proficiency rates in third grade reading and 65 percent decrease in math.
The governor's office and education officials said the “learning loss” was the result of the "prolonged school closures and time away from classroom."
“It is so important that children get back in the classrooms where the strongest learnings can take place," Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn said.
The governor said the COVID-19 pandemic created "immense challenges" for students and educators.
“The vast majority of students learn best in-person with their teacher, and we’ll continue to help provide a safe environment for Tennessee students to get their educational journeys back on track," Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement on Wednesday.
Schwinn said they always expect the “summer slide.” But with being out of school an extra three months has led to even more learning loss.
She added "increased time away from school has negative implications for students" and that was "compounded during extended building closures."
The data also shows the “learning loss” is 2.5 times higher than the normal summer rate.
“The department is focused on ensuring we provide essential services and resources to mitigate learning loss and keep students on a path to success this new school ," Schwinn said in a statement on Wednesday.
The data states the “learning loss” had a larger impact on the early grades than the later grades.
The data also stated students with lower proficiency rate were "also disproportionately impacted by learning loss, further exacerbating existing achievement gaps."
Schwinn said getting that learning back will likely take more than a school.
She points out that it’s very difficult to teach students to read virtually. She also said not being in a classroom hinders students from problem solving with one another.
Commissioner Schwinn said there a two sets of data informing them.
One is a study from late June, by the Department of Education and CREDO and NWEA.
“It was a predictive model to map out how students were projected to perform on at least what their proficiency rates would be coming back to school after building closures and after an extended period of time outside of the classroom," Schwinn said.
The other study is done with data provided from districts voluntarily combined with the beginning of the year checkpoints the department is offering for free.
“At this point we’ve had over 30,000 students who completed those beginning of year checkpoint that’s giving us a relatively good landscape or at least a prediction of what that will look like statewide. So those two data points together," Schwinn said.
She said the beginning of the year checkpoint was supposed to be provided in two years “but certainly accelerated to address COVID. And that is a short form assessment that matches the TCAP from the last year. So if you were a 4th grade student, you would be able to take a short form or hour long version or less of what that 3rd grade assessment would have been the year before. And that helps the teacher identify what mastery level, generally, that child has for the 3rd grade standards. And that’s something we provide for free in the same assessment platform you would take the TCAP in.”
The Department of Education has received $40 million in federal grants specifically to support literacy remediation to address COVID.
The department also said 96 percent of school districts have an in-person option available for students.
Schwinn has a message for parents.
"We have a number and a majority of the schools in our state are open for in person and that does apply for the strongest application of education….has a fair shot," she said.
Higher education is also facing challenges.
The executive director for the commission said on Wednesday retaining students on campus and making sure they graduate is one issue. He added ensuring this ’s high school students move on to college.
His ultimate concern is the intensity of the pandemic will mean losing students who otherwise would have been successful.
The Higher Education Commission said they’ve taken a series of emergency financial aid actions around the Tennessee Promise and the Hope Lottery Scholarship trying to remove hurdles of getting students on campus.