Bill to Require Reporting on Learning Loss & School Operations During COVID-19 Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Recognizing that the coronavirus pandemic has played an unparalleled role in our children’s education in the past ten months, the Assembly Education Committee on Monday advanced legislation to require the New Jersey Department of Education to prepare two reports on learning loss and the overall impact of COVID-19 on public schools.

“Before the pandemic, we primarily worried about learning loss over summer break or other extended holidays. Now that students have been away from the traditional classroom for almost a year, we have yet to fully grasp the extent of learning lost,” said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), a prime sponsor of the legislation. “We all hope that our children can return to full-time, in-person learning as soon possible. Before they do, we must understand how to address the gaps in their education undoubtedly left behind by a school year unlike any other.”

Under the bill (A-5126), the DOE Commissioner would be required to prepare two reports; the first would focus on learning loss and the impact of COVID-19 on student academic outcomes, and the second would target the continuation of school services during the pandemic.

Prime sponsors of the measure include Assemblywomen Pam Lampitt and Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

“In many ways, this generation will be shaped by their months of learning under unprecedented, imperfect circumstances,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “We cannot plan our path forward without addressing the lapses in learning spurred by technical difficulties, high absenteeism and a lack of social interaction, among other issues. These reports will help us identify where to allocate our resources to respond to COVID-19 related academic disparities.”

“Though our teachers have done a remarkable job in continuing our children’s education, Zoom learning cannot replace hands-on lessons. A group activity over a virtual Chat box is no substitute for students playing outside with their friends at recess; and an emailed greeting cannot match a teacher’s smile and wave hello as students takes their seats in a traditional classroom,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “We are preparing for a new ‘normal’ in which students will need to readjust to a more structured – and likely more rigorous – learning schedule than they’ve had at home. Our challenge will be to not only get students back into the classroom, but to understand the gaps in academic, social and personal growth they experienced amid this public health crisis.”

For the learning loss report, the Commissioner would collect data from school districts to identify and quantify the impact of COVID-19 on overall student academic outcomes, including an analysis of district size, grade levels and academic subject wherever possible. The report would also assess the impact of COVID-19 on student achievement disparities before the public health emergency, including as it pertains to race, ethnicity, gender, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches under the National School Lunch Program, eligibility for special education services and English language learner designations.

The second report on overall education during the pandemic would include:

  • The dates of any extended and intermittent pauses of academic instruction taken as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
  • A description of the instructional format provided by the school district;
  • For any remote learning provided, data on the amount of class time students spent in synchronous and asynchronous learning formats;
  • Data on class sizes for each instructional format used by the district and the amount of any small group or one-on-one instruction delivered;
  • Data and information on student and teacher access to reliable Internet and technology;
  • High school graduation rates;
  • Information on any standardized assessment administered to students in the fall of 2020;
  • The attendance rates and attendance policy applied by the school district;
  • Information on the continuity of special education services;
  • A description of the professional development opportunities provided to school district teachers and staff;
  • The number of students who received free or reduced-price meals;
  • Information on any district-sponsored childcare programs;
  • Information on current and projected teacher shortages; and
  • Types of social-emotional supports provided to students, teachers, and staff and participation rates of these programs.

The measure now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further review.