Pandemic may feed summer slide


Marysville educators fear jump in student regression
Although administrators in the Marysville School District don’t yet know what the start of class will look like in August, they know students will be dealing with the effects of an amplified “summer slide.”
At Thursday night’s meeting, the Marysville Board of Education was told to expect students to show a traditional skill regression, known as the summer slide, when they return, multiplied by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Summer slide is the tendency of students to lose some of the educational gains made in the previous year while they are out of school for the summer.
Marysville Literacy Director Steve Griffin said the district sees a typical regression of 20% in reading skills over the summer. Math skills, used even less when school is not in session, can slide by up to 30%.
The real problem for the start of the 20-21 school year is the addition of coronavirus. According to Griffin, the Northwest Evaluation Association has published a brief, in response to testing millions of students, that says to expect a greatly amplified slide.
The brief said to expect an additional regression of 10-20% in reading and another 20-30% in math created by the pandemic. Loss of traditional resources, coupled with distractions created by family struggles during the outbreak are blamed for the additional regression.
“That’s a lot of concerning news,” Griffin said. “I would say bad news, actually.”
Griffin also noted that while the district needs to push students to make up ground on the summer/coronavirus slide, setting unreachable goals is not helpful.
“If academic expectations are unrealistic, school will likely become a source of further distress for students at a time when they need additional support,” Griffin said in his presentation.
But there is hope for the local district because of its aggressive collection of student data. Because the progress of each student is tracked in detail, the district can apply resources with “surgical-like precision.”
Griffin said the district will be able to attack the slide immediately when school begins, rather than trying to identify which students need help. He said some district will be in a situation where they will need to forgo learning for student testing in order to determine where to apply additional resources.
Griffin said a great deal of Marysville’s resources will be applied to the literacy component for younger students. He said children learning to read are best served by face to face practice with educators, a process that can’t be replicated through online learning.
He said the lack of live, direct instruction of reading is creating a problem, not just in Marysville, but nationwide. He said schools in the United States are faced with flattening a potential illiteracy curve.
“I think the nation might be completely underestimating the brewing literacy crisis,” Griffin said.
Locally, Griffin will be forming a task force to determine how the district can get back to high quality reading instruction despite the restrictions put in place by the pandemic. He said all options are on the table in regard to getting students more face-to-face literacy instruction – including the possibility of creating mobile reading intervention buses. Such a solution could include teams of teachers being bused to neighborhoods to help targeted groups of students.
Such a mobile option is being considered because the idea of starting the school year with a blend of in-class and remote learning is looking more and more likely.
Superintendent Diane Allen shared the results of a parent and staff survey that detailed concerns in the district.
The survey, sent to all parents in the district, asked families about their desire to return to classes next year if no vaccine is available. Just more than 70% of the 1,772 responding families said they would like to see their children back in class. A little less than 20 % said they were unsure about the safety of returning and 10 % said they would not send their students back to school during the pandemic.
Allen said any plan for the start of school next year will be flexible and will afford parents the choice to use remote learning if they feel the classroom environment is unsafe.
Creating both a hybrid plan and a fully remote curriculum would prove taxing for staff assignments, were it not for the results of a second survey shared by Allen.
A staff survey found that 18% of teachers said they would not return to work because of safety fears. While this might sound like a problem, Allen explained that it actually allows for some redistribution of staff resources.
In essence, teachers and students who do not want to return to school in the fall would be paired up. Educators working from home could be responsible for lesson plans for remote learners, but some challenges remain.
“You may be a teacher with some varying grade levels,” Allen said.
While a medical advisory board and health department officials are working with the district to put classroom safety protocols in place, a 30-person task force of staff and parents is currently working to create an outline of exactly when students will be in class. The group is using results of additional parent surveys to create a plan to be shared at the July board of education meeting.
Allen said the group has considered various scenarios that blend in-school classes with remote learning. Such plans considered included alternating days in and out of class, alternating week by week and even a plan that saw grades K-6 report every day while older students still used an element of remote learning.
The only plan universally disliked on the survey involved an alternation based on daily a.m. and p.m. classes.
While Allen hopes to have a prospective plan at the July meeting, the idea won’t be set in stone. She said the rapidly changing guidelines from the state would probably force the district to select a “drop dead” date for the plan, possibly in early August.
Once in place the plan will spell out class schedules, safety precautions, busing restrictions, class size limits, new cafeteria protocols and a decision on the use of masks.

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