Tennessee students who attended summer camps improved in English and math, recovering some of their learning loss from the pandemic, after the Legislature injected $ 160 million into new programs, according to new data released by the state on Wednesday.
The test scores of 120,000 students who participated in the classes showed an improvement of 5.97 percentage points in all English language arts, with primary grades improving by 7.34 percentage points and middle school students improving moderately by 0.66 percentage points, according to the Education Ministry report.
Overall math performance showed an improvement of 10.49 percentage points, with elementary school students improving by 11.66 percentage points and middle school students by 6 percentage points.
The tests students took before and after the summer programs were not as comprehensive as the TNReady test used to determine how well students are improving year over year. According to Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, the abbreviated tests used 10 questions from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program most likely to show student performance and took only 30 minutes compared to three hours for an end-of-year test. typical year. Schwinn said students across the state take the same tests at every grade level.
Despite the reminder of the assessment, officials said they were optimistic about the results.
“I am pleased with the first year of a statewide summer program and, again, we are one of the few states to have a statewide program in place. ‘State, I have no doubts that this gives us good background information, “Schwinn said. .
Cleveland City Schools Principal Russell Dyer told lawmakers at a joint meeting of House education committees he had seen improvements based on the “benchmark” test.
Dyer said the students enjoyed the camps and “had fun this summer” as schools snuck into education.
“The teachers were rock stars,” he added.
Gov. Bill Lee said on Wednesday he was encouraged by data from the summer learning camps, which were set up by the Legislature after calling a special session in January to deal with the loss learning curve caused by the pandemic. “Quick action” made the difference, said the governor.
Students missed the final weeks of the 2019-20 school year when COVID-19 began to spread across the state. Tens of thousands of students spent the 2020-21 school year in hybrid model learning, a mix of classroom and virtual classroom time performed through a computer.
Still, the governor acknowledged, “We have a long way to go” and a good deal of student learning “to recover.”
Commissioner Schwinn pointed out that the summer learning programs had helped pupils to create “huge momentum” as this school year approached, which she described as “very difficult”.
Summer learning camps and after-school camps were visited more by elementary school students than middle school students, she added.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie, a Democrat from Nashville, welcomed the news but said it was too early for a “victory lap”.
“I think the sample size of students who attended the summer school is quite small and I would expect us to know more about this school year and the million students who have struggled this year through the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and classrooms shut down for weeks due to quarantines and the lack of consistent distance learning opportunities during those quarantines, ”Dixie said in a statement.
School districts across the state have quarantined thousands of students over COVID-19, and some districts have closed schools because hundreds of children, teachers and staff have contracted the virus .
At least one Memphis student has died of COVID-19, and at least 14 public school workers, including teachers, staff and bus passengers have died since August of the disease.
House Democratic caucus chair Vincent Dixie of Nashville welcomed the positive news, but warned it was too early for a “victory lap,” noting that the sample size of students who participated in the summer programs was small.
“There’s a lot of work ahead, but after seeing what Tennessee has accomplished this summer for its students, I think our public schools are proving what’s possible,” Schwinn said in a statement.
The data showed that economically disadvantaged students were hit the hardest by the pandemic, according to Schwinn, who also told lawmakers that students who took in-person learning during the pandemic had less decline than those who took an apprenticeship. virtual or remote.
The Legislature this year passed a measure banning e-learning. But due to lingering issues with the pandemic, Schwinn has approved numerous waivers to allow students and schools to use virtual learning.
Asked by Rep. John Ray Clemmons if she thinks she should be able to approve waivers unilaterally, Schwinn replied that she does not make health care decisions but does determine if a school can continue to operate. .
Clemmons pointed out that students at Metro Nashville Public Schools, who took distance education for most of the 2020-21 school year, showed improvement. But Schwinn noted that they returned to classroom learning towards the end of the year and said the district’s results couldn’t be compared directly to the state’s.
The questions posed by Clemmons drew a rebuke from State Representative Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, who noted that lawmakers should focus on getting students back to classrooms. Cepicky said he wants Tennessee to rank first in the country for education, even though it ranks 46th nationally.
“If you don’t want to compete, great. There are other places to live, ”Cepicky said, pointing his statement at Clemmons, then shaking his head.
Clemmons later said it was “reasonable” to think that students who volunteered to attend summer camps with student-teacher ratios between 3: 1 and 15: 1 show improvement.
“However, it is fair to question the ‘promising results’ sold by the administration (Lee),” Clemmons said.
He pointed out that little information is available on the number of students performing at school level when they took the tests before the camps started and where they took the tests. Lawmakers only recently received the data from the TCAP and he wondered how the Department of Education had transformed the data so quickly.
The Department of Education is receiving $ 4.5 billion from the federal government, of which some $ 3.6 billion will go directly to school districts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools file plans with the state on how they plan to spend this money.