February 20th, 2021

Part 3: State-Level Policy Recommendations and Actions

While educators and schools will be at the heart of efforts to reimagine instruction and accelerate learning, states also have an important role to play. The following state-level policy recommendations can guide school districts in decisions about reimagining learning while also implementing effective guardrails to ensure that acceleration efforts do not compromise the commitment to guaranteeing all students a high-quality, rigorous education.

These recommendations focus on accelerating instruction, but this is only one piece of a necessary, comprehensive approach to support students, families, educators, and schools during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Allocate resources to design and implement acceleration approaches with fidelity. States can:

Establish tutoring programs and prioritize serving students with disabilities and students most in need. States can encourage school districts to blend funding from Title I, IDEA, and the CARES Act to establish robust tutoring programs. Tutoring services should supplement whole group grade-level instruction taught by a content expert, essentially acting as a double dose of instruction rather than as a replacement for whole group instruction.

Invest in hardware, software, and infrastructure that allow all students to access and engage with virtual or blended instruction. States should provide additional funding to increase the device-per-pupil ratio and create solutions to ensure that all students have access to the internet. Without this investment, the reliance on distance or blended learning could have a disproportionate negative impact on students experiencing poverty, students of color, and students with disabilities who, generally, have less access to devices, assistive technology, and adequate instruction.

Protect and expand funding for specialized instructional support personnel. States should allocate sufficient funding to districts to pay for school psychologists, school counselors, social workers, and other specialized instructional support personnel. COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the mental health and social-emotional well-being of children. Due to the pandemic, many children will experience greater levels of stress as more families face economic hardship, and caregivers balance work, caring for friends and family, and schooling. Schools will need the same, if not more, support from specialized staff to meet the needs of children during uncertain COVID-19 times and beyond.

Support and encourage districts to administer formative assessments regularly to assess progress of individual students and adapt instructional approaches for students who are not making sufficient progress. During the coming months, it will be more important to focus on instruction than on standardized assessments that are used to measure student proficiency for high-stakes decisions such as grade promotion and graduation. In the short term, states should encourage districts to support the frequent administration of formative assessments as a way to determine the impact of new instructional models on student learning. While data from these assessments are essential to guide educators in planning and delivering well-targeted instruction, they are not intended to serve as a measure of student learning for school and district accountability purposes.

Cultivate the knowledge and skills to reimagine learning. States can:

Create partnerships with education organizations to help districts and schools execute accelerated models in different instructional contexts (asynchronously, synchronously, virtual, blended, in-person). States can help establish partnerships with education organizations (e.g., community-based programs, national and state nonprofits, colleges, technology businesses, independent researcher entities) to develop guidance, materials, and professional development protocols to assist in the implementation of evidence-based, culturally competent, accelerated approaches in fully virtual and blended learning models.

Create professional development and guidance on how to use ongoing, formative assessments to identify students’ unique learning needs. States should issue guidance and provide additional resources to increase the amount of professional development available to help educators effectively administer and use data from these assessments.

Allocate resources to build expertise around accelerated curriculum. States should allocate additional resources from federal relief packages or other sources to allow districts to develop and provide personalized professional development. Funds should be made available to hire additional personnel to ensure manageable class sizes, to address challenges posed by online and hybrid learning, and for ongoing coaching to educators as they implement accelerated curricula.

Streamline and focus learning by identifying “power” standards. States can help districts streamline and focus learning by identifying critical standards needed for academic success. Content experts working with state leaders should review state standards and reduce redundancies in learning while also emphasizing the integration of prerequisite skills with grade-level content. States should reinforce that all students should be held to these standards, rather than modifying expectations for certain subgroups of students that were disproportionately impacted by the school disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Establish guardrails so that acceleration approaches are implemented in an inclusive and equitable manner.States can:

Establish guardrails within new acceleration approaches to ensure that struggling students and those with identified disabilities have access to grade-level content and rigorous learning opportunities. It will be challenging to determine if a child is making meaningful yearly progress and staying on “grade level” in new instructional learning environments that allow students to advance at their own pace. To minimize the risk of having students fall behind, states should help districts to develop strong progress monitoring systems that identify when students are not making sufficient progress. See more important guardrails here.

Ensure that students with disabilities have access to grade-level instruction in the least restrictive environment. States should monitor data and COVID reentry plans to ensure that all students will have access to accelerated curriculum, especially those who were most negatively impacted by school closures in the spring of 2020 and during the 2020–2021 school year. Specifically, states should clarify that accelerated approaches should not be used to “track” students — or put certain student groups on different learning trajectories. For instance, states should monitor and ensure that students with disabilities will benefit from accelerated curriculum approaches alongside their peers without disabilities.

Articulate pathways for students who are graduating or aging out of high school to earn needed credits and participate in college and career transition services. States should issue guidance to require high schools to ensure that students who are graduating or aging out of high school can access the necessary coursework to receive their diploma or certificate, despite school closures. This may include allowing juniors or seniors to complete coursework or access transition services after their graduation or age-out date.

Part 4:

Federal-Level Policy Recommendations and Actions

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