Bolstering Learning in a Pandemic

In Georgia, New Report Informs State Spending to Advance Academic Recovery

Posted September 7, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Woman shows her laptop screen to another woman. Both women are masked to prevent the spread of infection, presumably from the coronavirus.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

The Geor­gia Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion has announced new fund­ing aimed at help­ing stu­dents recov­er from a year of dis­rupt­ed learn­ing due to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. It’s a move backed by data indi­cat­ing that the pub­lic health cri­sis has sub­stan­tial­ly slowed stu­dent progress in cer­tain Atlanta-area school dis­tricts and exact­ed a greater toll on stu­dents in low-income fam­i­lies and stu­dents of color.

The Geor­gia Pol­i­cy Labs (GPL), a grantee of the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion based at Geor­gia State Uni­ver­si­ty, ana­lyzed stu­dent test­ing data in three Atlanta-area school dis­tricts to cre­ate a detailed snap­shot of the pandemic’s effect on aca­d­e­m­ic progress. 

GPL’s review uti­lized for­ma­tive tests, which are designed to cap­ture what stu­dents know while they are still in the process of learn­ing some­thing. This approach enabled GPL to work quick­ly and issue its final report — com­plete with time­ly rec­om­men­da­tions — in May 2021

There’s such a long lag time for stan­dard­ized test scores to come back to the dis­tricts and researchers,” explains Chris Kings­ley, a senior asso­ciate with the Foundation’s Research, Eval­u­a­tion and Data team. In this case, GPL was unique­ly posi­tioned to use for­ma­tive tests and turn the data around quick­ly to inform pol­i­cy­mak­ers’ decisions.” 

Respons­es to the Pandemic’s Effect on Kids Aca­d­e­m­ic Achievement

The pan­dem­ic sub­stan­tial­ly slowed stu­dents’ expect­ed tra­jec­to­ry of achieve­ment with wide vari­a­tion by aca­d­e­m­ic sub­ject, grade lev­el and school dis­trict, accord­ing to the report. Stu­dents who had more remote learn­ing also had less aca­d­e­m­ic growth than stu­dents who returned to the classroom. 

The GPL team pro­posed ways to help stu­dents catch up aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly: inten­sive tutor­ing for kids who expe­ri­enced the largest set­backs; longer school days dur­ing the aca­d­e­m­ic year; 20-stu­dent caps on class­es; and school breaks — includ­ing sum­mer break — filled with aca­d­e­m­ic pro­gram­ming. Over­all, the report stressed the impor­tance of employ­ing data-dri­ven, proven strate­gies at every turn. 

GPL shared its find­ings wide­ly — with school part­ners, oth­er school sys­tems, the state Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion and edu­ca­tion stake­hold­ers. Local and nation­al media cov­ered the report and its rec­om­men­da­tions exten­sive­ly, and school dis­tricts cit­ed GPL’s research when out­lin­ing their aca­d­e­m­ic recov­ery approach in state appli­ca­tions for Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan Act funding. 

Two months after the report’s release, Geor­gia announced new sup­port — $85 mil­lion in grants made pos­si­ble by the fed­er­al Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan — aimed at help­ing stu­dents get their learn­ing back on track. The Build­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ties in Out-of-School Time pro­gram funds statewide orga­ni­za­tions oper­at­ing year-round as well as local com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions offer­ing after­school and sum­mer learn­ing pro­grams. The approach pri­or­i­tizes stu­dents who suf­fered the largest loss­es dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, includ­ing kids from low-income house­holds, youth with dis­abil­i­ties and those who spent the major­i­ty of the pri­or aca­d­e­m­ic year learn­ing remotely.

It’s rare in edu­ca­tion to see research like this have such an imme­di­ate impact on deci­sion mak­ing,” says Rubye Sul­li­van, a Casey senior asso­ciate who focus­es on edu­ca­tion at the Atlanta Civic Site. 

Build­ing Strong Data-Shar­ing Partnerships

Beyond the report, GPL has gath­ered two decades of edu­ca­tion data and formed data-shar­ing part­ner­ships with state and local agen­cies work­ing on a range of issues, from child care to adult edu­ca­tion. The Casey Foun­da­tion has fund­ed GPL, in part, because of its capac­i­ty to cross bureau­crat­ic bound­aries, ana­lyze data and craft broad pol­i­cy recommendations. 

In its K‑12 edu­ca­tion work, GPL has a sin­gu­lar focus: to pro­vide its part­ner school sys­tems with time­ly pol­i­cy rec­om­men­da­tions that will ben­e­fit chil­dren and families. 

We always try to focus on pol­i­cy ques­tions where the dis­tricts have pol­i­cy options at their dis­pos­al,” explains Mag­gie Reeves, GPL’s senior direc­tor. We’re always lis­ten­ing, and our researchers are at our part­ners’ fin­ger­tips to attack prob­lems that real­ly mat­ter to them right now. With the his­toric data we have, we can use it basi­cal­ly at a moment’s notice if the dis­tricts approve.” 

Explore a resource hub for sup­port­ing stu­dents who dis­en­gaged from school dur­ing the pandemic 

Read the Foundation’s report on address­ing the pandemic’s effects on chil­dren and families 

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