Department of Education Launches Program to Help Schools Address Learning Loss Due to the Pandemic

student covidImage by Alexandra Koch

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has launched the next phase of an initiative that helps school leaders and educators address students’ learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new toolkit and professional learning series, “Accelerated Learning through an Integrated System of Support”, provides a voluntary process and research for school leaders to consider in preparing for the upcoming school year that addresses academic and emotional well-being of students.

“Our school communities have experienced and continue to experience many challenges during the pandemic, and learning loss is a significant issue students are facing in Pennsylvania and across the nation,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “We collectively still have a long way to go to understand the long-term impacts and effects of COVID-19 on education. However, through this Accelerated Learning series, we are providing additional supports to schools and educators to better inform their practices and address educational challenges now and in the future.”

The department partnered with the state’s Intermediate Units (IU) and the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) to develop the new program that helps schools prepare for the 2021-22 school year and focus on accelerated learning. The new series provides a systematic process, including a toolkit, planning templates and a series of webinars from April through June, to help schools make strategic decisions with the flexibility to adjust to the needs of their students.

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The new series builds on the Roadmap for Educational Leaders, a collection of research, tools, resources, and professional learning opportunities that PDE launched last fall to help schools manage school policy and procedures during COVID-19 response.

“We at PDE understand the impact the global pandemic has had on learning and are doing as much as possible to help mitigate learning gaps and offer social and emotional supports where necessary,” said Deputy Secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education Matthew Stem. “I am thankful to everyone who helped develop the Accelerated Learning through an Integrated System of Support and look forward to hearing from our school communities about the progress made throughout this upcoming school year.”

Concepts addressed in Accelerated Learning, with a focus on equity for all students, include:

  • Identifying and planning for a reset of school operations systems including health and safety, instructional models (in-person, virtual) teaching and learning;
  • Building a welcoming, safe and supportive community for students and teachers in all learning settings;
  • Identifying where students are entering school academically;
  • Aligning assessments, curriculum, and instruction to help each student progress; and
  • Developing teachers to support all students, particularly those most vulnerable.
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PDE recently announced nearly $1 million in federal grant money from the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) to study the impact of COVID-19 on K-12 students. The two-year grant will include research to determine inequities in education across Pennsylvania and recommend educational strategies to help students and schools move forward.

PDE is focused on understanding the needs of schools concerning student learning gaps and targeting efforts and resources to fit those specific needs. One option for supplemental support schools can consider is an extended school year. Other options are partnerships with community organizations, libraries, and postsecondary institutions to help support students through summer camps and after-school programs, as well as tutoring programs.

Pennsylvania recently announced close to $5 billion in federal aid to support K-12 education through the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund. Under this round of funding, states must reserve 7%, roughly $350 million, for interventions that address learning loss, support summer enrichment programs, comprehensive after-school programs, and more pandemic-related educational needs. More specific uses will be identified when the U.S. Department of Education releases guidance to states.

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Throughout the global pandemic, Pennsylvania has demonstrated a commitment to documenting the educational and other harms experienced by students, educators, and families. The ability to examine inequities in education will help create responsive teaching and learning opportunities in future years.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Department of Education, please visit the websit.

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