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GSCS Testimony--David Aderhold--Learning Loss 1-2521
Assembly Education Committee: Testimony regarding Learning Loss...'

Assembly Education Committee:

Testimony regarding Learning Loss

David Aderhold, Ed.D.

Garden State Coalition of Schools

January 25, 2021

 

Good Morning. My name is David Aderhold, Superintendent of Schools for the West Windsor –

Plainsboro Regional School District. Today, I join to provide testimony on behalf of the Garden

State Coalition of Schools. This past spring and summer I served as a member of the NJ

Legislative Education Recovery Task Force.

Today we gather to offer testimony on the learning loss bill; a bill that calls on the NJ

Department of Education to provide two reports to members of the legislature. While the Garden

State Coalition of Schools testifies in support of the bill today, we do so with significant

reservations and requests that the bill be amended as written.

Terminology

Learning loss is best understood not as a reduction in existing knowledge or skills, but as a

difference between our current reality and an expectation of learning under normal conditions.

Terminology such as “COVID Slide”, “learning loss,” or “falling behind,” suggests educators are

not creating a foundation for learning to take place. 

What we all have is a "learning delay" due to lost learning time.

This learning loss is because of an unprecedented pandemic that was amplified by inequities in

our education system.

We must remember that our standards spiral and content is covered during different time periods

over a student’s learning journey. We must remember that this is not a one-year recovery and

mitigation does not have to be accomplished over a summer, rather recovery and mitigation will

occur over a student’s schooling. This must be a multiyear approach. The recovery is also more

than academics and it must focus on the social emotional and mental health of our educators and

students.

Testing Comparability

The bill as written asks the NJDOE to collect data and report back within 30 days. I raise

concerns regarding the report, constructed under these circumstances, in such a short time.

Further, as the data sets collected would be different from district to district and tied to different

standards and assessment measures, how would there be any validity or reliability in the report?

As such, the very data requested would effectively check a box that data was reviewed but would

have no true value to inform decisions.

 

To compare how students are faring versus previous cohorts or even versus their own past

performance, the only consistent measure at this time, for all school districts would be NJSLA.

Before we place an undue burden on local districts, we must ask the NJDOE to evaluate the data

that they have already collected:

1. Over the summer, the NJDOE was still reporting over 80,000 students without access

to technology. While this gap has been substantially closed, any reasonable person

can surmise that lost and/or delayed learning happened for students who have been on

virtual instruction, without either devices or connectivity.

a. This happened disproportionately for students who are economically

disadvantaged and for students of color.

b. The State already has this information due to the surveys they required of

districts.

 

2. Another area of focus would be to identify students who have remained on our rolls,

but reside in districts that, for a variety of reasons, have not been able to open their

doors for in-person learning since March.  These students have not been IN school as

their districts have been unable to open at all. Many of these districts

disproportionately serve economically disadvantaged students and students of color.

a. This NJDOE already has this data as districts were required to report learning

plans in August of 2020.

 

3. Further, there are New Jersey students who literally have not set foot in a school NOR

logged onto a virtual learning session NOR completed any school work since last

March. The NJDOE has data on student enrollment between NJSMART uploads that

they can compare to find displaced and/or missing students.

4. Additionally, we must provide resources or other services to our school districts. All

districts should have in-person options for their students. As such, the NJDOE and

state must provide additional guidance and financial support to assist students find a

pathway to reopen our schools.

a. In the weeks ahead, there will be districts that will have been fully closed for

one year to any in-person instruction. Many of these districts serve children in

our urban centers.

b. We must also recognize that many communities have selected to remain

virtual because their communities have been disproportionately ravaged by

COVID.

 

5. Lastly, we must be mindful of our developing readers, in particular our Kindergarten

and First grade students that may need targeted interventions and time to ensure that

their reading levels mature. We must also consider the support needs of our ESL and

Special Education students.

 

The pandemic has made obvious what was already known, our system in inequitable. Students,

who live in poverty, live with food instability, live without internet access or devices are at a

severe disadvantage in remote instruction. We need to solve the equity problem permanently, not just in the pandemic.

Before mandating burdensome and unnecessary data requests to local districts from the NJDOE,

I ask that we leverage the information and data already in the State's possession.

Districts must continue to focus on the needs of our students and staff. We do not need to be

burdened responding to a data request that will waste time and yield useless new information.

Now more than ever is the time to focus upon the Whole Child and the Whole Educator.

Concerns with mental health, anxiety, and depression is more prevalent now than before the

pandemic and we were in a mental health crisis then. The system of support is overburdened,

under staffed, and underfunded. There is a crisis of structural support that must be addressed.

FUNDING

Further, the reduction of state aid in Fiscal Year 21’ caused districts to take further financial cuts

to instructional programs in the midst of the pandemic. Additionally, many “S2” districts have

been disproportionately impacted by reductions in state funding due to formulary changes.

Schools need resources and it is the legislatures' responsibility to find the resources to fulfill their

Constitutional responsibilities.

Mitigating learning challenges for students with identified learning needs is something districts

have successfully provided for years. Unfortunately, as funding challenges have been

perpetuated over numerous budget cycles, staffing determinations have driven staff reductions,

instructional support positions have been eliminated or reduced. We need adequate funding to

drive targeted approaches of support for students whose learning have been most impacted.

Reframe this challenge as an opportunity

Rather than see online and hybrid learning as a challenge and to frame the past year through

“learning loss”, what if we reimagine school and inspire to make it more equitable? What if we

ask questions and collect data about the innovations and best practices that have worked and

need to stay in a Post-COVID learning environment.

As a parent of five, an educator for over two decades, and a Superintendent of Schools, I can tell

you that this past year has challenged us all to our core. Students, parents, and educators have all

had struggled in adjusting to a digital or hybrid learning environment. As we work to address

concerns, I ask that we also pause and celebrate the remarkable efforts, flexibility, commitment,

and innovations our educators have made throughout the pandemic. We need to ensure that we

reflect upon what has worked well and continue to celebrate the role education and educators play in our society.


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828