The Weekly Connect 6/1/21

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Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

Fourth grade science NAEP scores in 2019 declined by two points compared to 2015.

Twenty-seven states have abandoned universal masking in schools

Students are struggling with pandemic-related mental health challenges.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

Education Has a Three-Headed Crisis. Mental Health is Only Part of It.
EdSurge: Over a year into COVID-19, the reality is that we are not only experiencing a mental health pandemic; we now have a three-headed learning crisis consisting of mental health, empathy, and creativity. In the mental health realm, 46% of parents reported that their teens were experiencing a new or worsening mental health condition since the beginning of the pandemic. Emotional stress of young children below 5 is also on the rise. Levels of empathy in youth are being challenged in the pandemic due to increased isolation and feelings of loneliness, as well as a reduction in the emotional connection between new mothers and babies. The warning signs of a creativity crisis involve the pandemic’s negative impact on unstructured play and physical activity for youth. Schools are key settings for addressing this multifaceted issue. See related articles: Brookings “All Kids Deserve to Have Recess Next School Year” and Education Week “Helping Students Bounce Back From a Disrupted Year: Strategies for Schools.”

NAEP: 4th Grade Science Scores Drop, 8th and 12th Remain Steady
K-12 Dive: Fourth grade scores declined by two points on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress science tests compared to 2015 results, and average scores for the 8th and 12th grade showed no change, according to recently released results. Fourth and 8th grade score gaps between higher- and lower-performing students have widened. The governing board explains gaps were driven by lower-performing students, a trend seen in recent 4th and 8th grade math and reading results. The NAEP science results represent the last major release of NAEP exam performance from prior to the pandemic. The drop in 4th-graders’ science performance is worrisome to educators and researchers, especially a five-point decrease from the 2015 to 2019 scores for students scoring in the 10th percentile.

Policy

27 States Abandon Universal Masking in School, Representing 51% of U.S. Students
The 74 Million: As debates over masks in schools reach a fever pitch — with Texas, Iowa, and Utah late last week banning face covering mandates outright — over half of all U.S. students now attend school in states that do not require universal masking in the classroom. Four states have switched to a vaccine-contingent policy in which individuals can go maskless only if they have been immunized, 17 states have lifted mask mandates but allow local districts to set their own policies and six states have explicitly banned masking requirements. Meanwhile 23 states, accounting for 49 percent of American learners, have maintained their requirement that all students and staff wear face coverings in school. See related article: N.P.R. “Schools Are Dropping Mask Requirements, But A New CDC Study Suggests They Shouldn’t.”

Why Evidence-Backed Programs Might Fall Short in Your School (And What To Do About It)
Education Week: As funds from the American Rescue Plan start to arrive in schools and districts, many educators will quickly implement new programs to meet the needs of students with pandemic-related challenges. Many schools will choose programs based on their evidence of success, yet most school leaders also know that implementing a program does not automatically yield the promised bump in student achievement. One reason is that effect-sizes reported in meta-analyses are not always replicable in real world conditions. Another is that implementation can sharply affect outcomes. However, in good news for schools, a recent EdWeek analysis found that both moderate- and high-fidelity implementation tended to produce positive effects of similar size.

Should Mental Health Be a Valid Reason For Missing School? Many Say Yes.
The Washington Post: Leaders in Montgomery County, Md., are taking steps to add mental health to the list of valid reasons to be absent from school, saying that the move is especially important after the inordinate toll of the pandemic. The change would begin in the fall, when students in Montgomery County are expected to return to full-day, in-person classes five days a week. “Student mental health has been a challenge this year, through the pandemic, and we believe it is a wise decision,” Patricia O’Neill, a school board member, said as she introduced the change. Under a measure unanimously approved, the board asked the superintendent of schools to revise regulations to include student “well-being” beside a mention of “student illness” as an excused form of absence. See related articles: Governing “Chronic Absenteeism Is a Huge School Problem. Can Data Help?” and Chalkbeat “‘Our Kids Have Run Out of Resilience:’ Experts Declare Youth Mental Health ‘State of Emergency’ in Colorado.”

Around the Nation

Tens of Thousands of Students May Have to Repeat a Grade. Should They?
Education Week: After more than a year waging uphill battles to connect with their schooling, tens of thousands of students now face having to repeat a grade in 2021-22. It’s a choice an unusually high number of principals, district leaders, and parents anticipate making, despite warnings in stacks of research that it often doesn’t help—and can harm—children. The prospect of a spike in retention flies in the face of a broad-based consensus among educators that wherever possible, it’s best to move students forward into next year’s content, with carefully calibrated supports. It also raises the specter that the children hurt most by the pandemic will fall farther behind, since Black, Latino, and low-income students are typically retained disproportionately.

How This Chicago School Social Worker is Tackling the Pandemic’s Mental Health Toll
Chalkbeat: Donna Flanagan, a social worker at Dyett High School for the Arts on Chicago’s South Side, has worked in the district for more than two decades. The pandemic made her role more essential than ever. But the coronavirus also placed two screens between her and a growing number of students who struggled with grief, anxiety, and depression amid the upheaval. It made some of the hands-on activities she favors to help teens cope, such as art therapy, tough to pull off. Still, Flanagan worked hard to address students’ social and emotional needs. She is gearing up to launch a new club at her high school with a catchy tagline — “Diamonds are made under pressure” — and a full menu of coping strategies, from yoga to journaling to mindfulness. See related article: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “The Pandemic and Virtual Classes Have Left Students Feeling Isolated. Here’s How Some Learned to Discuss Their Mental Health.”

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