Two Bold Ideas to Tackle COVID-19 Learning Loss

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a terrible toll on student achievement in Texas. Early projections suggest that students might have lost as much as one-third of a year in reading growth and over half a year in math. Low-income students and students of color have been hit even harder by learning loss than peers, increasing already wide achievement gaps in Texas.

To get our students back on track, we need to be prepared as a state to maximize any resources—including potential new stimulus funding—for the benefit of students. At the same time, we must acknowledge that potential federal stimulus dollars will likely be a one-time investment, and design programs that can be scaled up or down across the state based on the availability of funding. Here are two bold, evidence-based ideas that will tackle learning loss and can be scaled up or down based on budget realities:

  • Expand eligibility for Additional Days School Year (ADSY) funding from grades PK-5 to all grades, PK-12. Increase funding for additional days from half-day to full-day (T.E.C. 48.0051)
  • Create a Texas Tutor Corps of teacher candidates enrolled in educator preparation programs and other qualified Texans to tutor students who are behind grade level in core subjects, with a focus on low-income and marginalized communities

Expanding the Additional Days School Year

The passage of HB 3 in 2019 was a historic investment in evidence-based educational practices and student equity. In light of the current pandemic, many of HB 3’s initiatives seem prescient—most notably the Additional Days School Year Allotment (ADSY). The ADSY, which funds 30 additional days for eligible PK-5th grade students, promises to be an important tool for districts in making up for lost time in the classroom. Districts across the state face the urgent task of remediating months of lost learning: in Dallas ISD, annual MAP test results have revealed that only 33 percent of third-graders are on pace to meet grade level in reading and 13 percent are on pace in math.

Figure 1Summer break can and must be used to help students get back on track. Further, given that so many students have fallen behind, most cannot afford to lose more learning over this upcoming summer break. To more effectively fight COVID-related learning loss, ADSY eligibility should be extended to all Texas students, PK-12. Funding should be increased for from half-day to full-day amounts to ensure that districts can cover costs and offer high-quality programming.

Establishing a New Texas Tutor Corps

Texas should also assemble a statewide tutor corps of educator preparation program students and other qualified Texans to tutor students who have fallen behind grade level in core subjects. Research indicates that evidence-based, high-dosage tutoring (tutors work with the same students in regular intervals throughout an entire school year) can benefit students in significant ways. National programs such as City Year have proven that tutoring and small group instruction can be successfully scaled across a range of communities.

Other states have already begun experimenting with tutoring initiatives to fight learning loss: for example, former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam created the Tennessee Tutoring Corps in May.

Tennessee Tutor Corps Student Math Outcomes, By GradeCosting roughly $1 million, this program employed 1,000 tutors over the summer, training them and deploying them strategically around the state to work with students. After only two months of intensive tutoring, students achieved progress in all grades and in both ELA and math. Further, the largest gains were made in areas where the most learning loss has taken place: early grades and math.

Given these promising results, Texas should consider its own statewide tutoring effort to help students get back on track and close longstanding achievement gaps among our state’s students based on race, class, language, and geography, among other factors.