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Think well: spend pandemic aid on direct student education


Andrew C. Spiropoulos

Most Oklahoma residents knew that when the evidence of our students’ academic success since the pandemic finally arrived, the results would be deplorable. And, unfortunately, they were right.

Compared to spring 2019, Oklahoma student performance, when tested this spring, fell across the board. Among the students tested in this cycle, in mathematics, only 22.1% obtained a score at school level or higher, against 32% already abysmal in 2019. In English, the scores went from 34.8% to 24.8 %. In science, they went from 34.5% to 29.7%. With the exception of one subject in one grade level, test takers’ performance in each subject at each grade level declined.

But the performance was even worse than it looks. In routine years, nearly 99% of students take the tests. In this cycle, only 91 to 92% participated in the tests. We don’t have definitive data, but those who did not pass the tests are unlikely to have been the best prepared students – the reverse is more likely. We know, for example, that students from poor households were less likely to take the tests. We also know that students attending the state’s leading online school also participated at low rates. Based on what we have learned about the effectiveness of distance learning, there is little hope for an increase in scores starting this quarter. We have to face the truth – it’s likely that if the normal cohort had passed the exams, the numbers would have been even worse.

We also cannot escape the fact that simply putting the children back to school will solve the problem. You can’t just work hard this year and get intellectually fit. The learning is cumulative, which means that if you fall behind, even if you come back the following year, your level of achievement will drop below what it would have been without the disruption. The following year, the gap between where you are and where you would have been will increase, and it will continue to do so every year. Assuming struggling students even graduate, they walk away with drastically reduced knowledge and skills, resulting in equally damaged life prospects.

The only hope to right this wrong is to make an immediate and comprehensive effort to close the learning gap through a significant addition of learning time, beyond the usual school schedule and day. If, as is likely, schools are unwilling to force large numbers of students to repeat a year, they must be willing to consider forcing struggling students to attend school full-time in the summer and to return to school. extend the hours of the normal school day. The state is making significant efforts to provide one-to-one math lessons for middle and high school students with learning gaps, which is commendable but should only be the start of many similar efforts.

These necessary interventions will be costly and demand a lot from teachers. The good news, beyond the usual powerful commitment to student well-being shared by most teachers, is that, thanks to the monsoon of federal pandemic money, there is enough money to fund most of what is needed. School districts, however, should avoid the temptation to spend the money to expand ancillary services, such as counseling and health care, instead of direct education. This money was never intended to build an addition to the bureaucratic house – it was intended to put out the fire that burns student learning to ashes.

Andrew Spiropoulos is Robert S. Kerr, Senior Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Oklahoma City and Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and should not be attributed to either institution.

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