Education

Briefly Stated: November 30, 2022

November 29, 2022 8 min read
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Pace of Recovery for Learning Found to Be Inequitable

One study after another has already shown that struggling students were hit hardest by COVID-related disruptions. It’s turning out they’re having a tougher time recovering, too.

An analysis of reading and math scores from its MAP Growth Assessment by the research and assessment organization NWEA found not only that the gaps between high-scoring and low-scoring students have widened since the beginning of the pandemic, but low-scoring students’ scores fell significantly further, 5.2 points on average versus 0.3 points.

From its sample of about 8 million students across 24,000 schools in grades 3-8, NWEA also saw academic strides during the 2021-22 school year. But even though both low- and high-scoring students made academic progress, lower-scoring students did so at a slower rate than higher-scoring students.

“It’s kind of a double whammy. Lower-achieving students were harder hit in that initial phase of the pandemic, and they’re not achieving as steadily,” said Karyn Lewis, the director of the Center for School and Progress at NWEA and the lead author of the brief. In some areas, she added, lower-achieving students aren’t making progress, and gaps are continuing to widen.

The fact that the effects of the largest educational disruption in recent history haven’t been zeroed out in a single year is hardly surprising. Researchers, policymakers, and advocates have repeatedly said that addressing effects on student learning will take time and money.

But the disparities in the pace of recovery mean that district and school leaders need to be intentional about how they target support, Lewis said.

“The implication for district leaders isn’t just, am I offering the right kinds of opportunities [for academic recovery]? But also, am I offering them to the students who have been harmed most?” she said.

Programs for tutoring or other services that require students to opt in, for example, could run the risk of deepening inequities if only higher-achieving students take advantage of them, Lewis said.

Leaders also need to be cognizant of effect sizes, she said. Many effective academic interventions only move the needle slightly. It’s likely that most students will need layered supports to make significant progress, she added.

States Opt Out of Large-Scale Federal Program That Tracks the Risky Behavior of Students

Maybe they just don’t want to know.

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened a mental health crisis among the country’s young people, a small group of states quietly withdrew from the nation’s largest public effort to track concerning behaviors in high school students.

Colorado, Florida, and Idaho will not take part in a key part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior survey that reaches more than 80,000 students. Over the past 30 years, the state-level surveys, conducted anonymously, have helped elucidate the mental health stressors and safety risks for high school students.

The trio of states joins Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming, which either never participated or decided to skip the previous two CDC assessments. Those states have their own youth surveys.

In part, experts trace the decisions to opt out to the intense political attention on teachers and school curricula that has led to a reluctance among educators to have students participate in what were once considered routine mental and behavioral health assessments.

Health officials from some of the states that pulled back say the CDC’s survey has shortcomings. Not all high schools are included, for example, and the sample of students from each state is so small that some state officials said their schools received little actionable data.

That was the case in Colorado, which fields its own survey and will now work on improving it, according to state health officials.

Education officials in Florida and Idaho say they plan to gather more state-specific data using new questionnaires. But neither state has designed a new survey, and what questions will be asked or what data will be captured is not clear.

Idaho officials also said the state is worried about taking up class time to survey students and about overstepping boundaries by asking questions that are not parent-approved.

Whatever the rationale, youth mental health advocates call opting out shortsighted and potentially harmful as the exodus erodes the national data collection.

What’s a Good Way to Drive Up Voter Turnout Among the Young? Don’t Count on Civics Tests

Ballots have already been cast in the Nov. 8 elections, but for the young people who soon will be eligible to join the electorate, the time is ripe to figure out how to help them vote—that is, if they even have the inclination to do so.

One way to dampen their ardor apparently is to require students to pass a civics test for high school graduation.

A new Pennsylvania State University study calls into question the usefulness of such accountability to instill students with long-term habits of civic engagement and voting.

In a working paper released this month, Penn State researchers Maithreyi Gopalan, an education and public-policy assistant, and doctoral researcher Jilli Jung analyzed voting trends among 18- to 22-year-olds in elections from 1996 to 2020.

They found that young people in states that adopted the Civics Education Initiative requiring passage of tests for graduation were at most 1.5 percentage points more likely to vote than peers in states that didn’t have such requirements—statistically, no difference. Nor did high school civics requirements increase voting among underrepresented groups of students—Black students actually saw a drop in voting, though again, not a significant one.

This partly may be because of differences in how educators approach the subject. In one recent RAND survey, only 5 percent of public school teachers said they thought civics education should prepare students for future political engagement. Nearly 70 percent said the main goal was to foster critical thinking.

“If states hope to improve civic participation among successive generations of citizen leaders, they need to do a lot more (or a lot different) than just mandate a civic test policy aimed at testing civic and political knowledge for high school graduation,” the researchers conclude.

In contrast, other studies have found civics interventions geared to more practical instruction—such as instructions on how to register and vote or school-based registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns—boosted voting among young people by 5 percent to 7 percent or more, depending on the intervention.

Yet studies conducted this fall found many schools don’t help their eligible high schoolers register to vote—even in states where it’s required.

Virtual Reality Devices Collect ‘Intimate’ Data

Think of the wonders of virtual reality, especially for K-12. It can take students on a tour through far-off cosmos or perhaps the human digestive system.

But the journey has a cost—and not just for the pricey headsets. VR devices may collect more than a million pieces of specific personal data, from how a user’s pupils are dilating to what makes them blush.

An analysis released this month by Common Sense Media, a research and advocacy organization, found that the most popular devices on the market all have serious privacy problems, leaving school districts that want to invest in VR with no viable option.

“We can’t recommend any device right now for schools and districts that wouldn’t potentially be violating state or federal privacy laws,” said Girard Kelly, Common Sense’s director of privacy, who conducted the study.

VR has a lot of potential as a teaching, learning, and engagement tool, Kelly said. With the technology, students could soon experience learning in hands-on ways unimaginable to previous generations. But, at least for now, that can’t be done without potentially opening up valuable data to tech companies, he said.

All the devices Common Sense examined display third-party advertising, and their privacy policies were often murky. More than half had no parental controls, and some had no safety settings at all.

Information collected through VR devices are especially sensitive because it can go far beyond name, age, and location, Kelly said. They can gather so-called biometric data, including “really sensitive, really intimate data.”

“What [we] do in these rich, immersive environments betrays our innermost thoughts and feelings,” Kelly said. That means, down the line, “what you do in VR could potentially be used to make you think positively about a brand or to purchase other products on other platforms.”

Nearly 300 Books Removed From Schools in Missouri

Policymakers across the nation are on a quest to censor what books students can read these days, but Missouri has jacked up the hunt.

Districts there have removed—either temporarily or permanently—almost 300 books from school libraries because of a state law that bans sexually explicit content, with one district responsible for 220 of them.

The banned books include graphic novels such as Batman and X-Men, a copy of Reader’s Digest, works about artists including Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, graphic novel adaptations of classics by William Shakespeare and Mark Twain, the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus and other books about the Holocaust, and The Children’s Bible.

While Missouri is far from the only state attempting to remove books—mostly about LGBTQ people and people of color—from classrooms and libraries, the scope of the interpretation of Missouri’s law is what makes it Draconian, according to Jonathan Friedman, the director of free expression and education programs from PEN America, a free speech advocacy organization.

“Of all the book bans I have seen for a year, this one is really astonishing, considering the range of materials that were swept up in it,” he said. “It just is emblematic of the moment that we’re in nationally with book bans. It’s a climate of fear that is sitting around schools and libraries and the danger when you set up what are ultimately arbitrary directives to remove books.”

A provision in the law cites any depiction or description of sexually explicit material, which includes sexual intercourse, genitalia, or “sadomasochistic abuse.”

The provision provides an exception for works with serious artistic, anthropologic, or scientific significance. But the exemption has not been employed by some districts, Friedman said.

Administrators, teachers, librarians, or any other school employees that violate the law could face up to a year in jail or up to $2,000 in fines.

Alyson Klein, Assistant Editor; Eesha Pendharkar, Staff Writer; Sarah Schwartz, Staff Writer; Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor; and Tribune News Service contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the November 30, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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