School and district leaders pushing for accelerated learning may not be thinking about the role that wraparound services for kids and their families—mental health counseling, food banks, transportation, and small group instruction—play in making sure their efforts are successful.
But they should be, concludes a report presented at the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference here.
Those wraparound services were pivotal to the success of Lindsay Unified, a high-poverty school district in California’s central valley, where students generally made progress during virtual instruction, even as kids in other districts with similar demographics lost academic ground, said Beth Holland, one of the study’s authors and a partner at the nonprofit Learning Accelerator in an interview.
The strategies can be applied to the kind of accelerated learning many districts are focusing on now.
If “we aren’t addressing the real needs of the whole child, how are we going to expect them to be able to engage in [the] kind of deep learning” needed for acceleration, she said. She and her co-author, Caitlin McLemore, an education technology consultant, analyzed historical data from iReady, an instructional platform which offers online assessments, to determine how Lindsay students fared during the pandemic.
Particularly eye-catching: While in many places, students classified as English language learners, migrants, or homeless, struggled during the 2020-21 school year, in Lindsay Unified those students generally advanced academically.
“These differences in progress are striking and certainly a testament to the efforts of the district to ensure that learners continued to grow during distance learning,” said the report.
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, the district made sure every child had a working Chromebook and access to the internet, and provided paper, pencils, books, crayons, and more to students at home.
What’s more, even when schools remained largely virtual, the district allowed small cohorts of students to return to the building where they could participate in online learning in a classroom along with a handful of their peers and a paraprofessional or other staff member who could help ensure that the virtual instruction went smoothly.
Parent communication was also a cornerstone of the district’s strategy. School counselors and staff told the researchers there was “regular, constant” communication with families and care-givers through text messaging, phone, evening Zoom meetings, and even home visits.
Lindsay Unified does not have particularly high student achievement compared with more advantaged districts. And elementary school students generally advanced further than older kids.
Still, Lindsay’s emphasis on wraparound supports—and the study’s focus on student progress rather than overall achievement—could provide a model for other districts looking to strengthen and evaluate their acceleration efforts, Holland said.
“I think the big piece is that it’s replicable, this idea that we are focusing on growth rather than a single test score,” Holland said. “And how do we really celebrate that progress? Because when we think about acceleration, we want to accelerate growth. We’re not necessarily trying to accelerate a number.”