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SBAC Data Shows Significant Pandemic Slide, Biden’s New Student Loan Offering Gets A LOT of Feedback

SBAC Data Shows Significant Pandemic Slide

Late last week, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) published the results of the 2021-22 Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC). The SBAC, Connecticut's standardized, statewide test in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math, provides longitudinal data to help track student achievement in districts and the state. Unfortunately, the data confirm the fears of many about the impact of the pandemic on students’ academic experiences in Connecticut over the last two years.

As our affiliate, ERN CT, noted in its "first look" analysis last week, Connecticut saw a dramatic reduction across the board in the percentages of students who are meeting or exceeding expectations—a fact that holds true in both ELA and Math. In the 2018-19 school year, for example, 54.3% of all third graders met or exceeded expectations in ELA. In 2021, only 46.7% of third graders met that same benchmark. Similarly, in 2018-19, 43.5% of all eighth graders met or exceeded expectations in Math, now down to a sobering 34.3% in 2021-22. (See ERN CT's analysis to view the SBAC data over time.)

As can be expected, this year’s district-level outcomes are also closely associated with wealth. (The scatter plots below shows that as the percentage of students eligible for Free and/or Reduced-Price Lunches increases, district-level performances tend to drop in both ELA and Math.)

In their statement, the CSDE acknowledged that, “it is estimated that students in Grades 4 and 5 may be 2-3 months behind their expected performance had there not been a pandemic. In the middle school grades (6 through 8), students may be 5-7 months behind in ELA, and a year or more behind in math.” With such significant ground to gain in learning recovery, they listed several programs that have been presented by the state over the last 18 months to help districts address lost class time. They include ARP ESSER funded summer programming, a model curriculum offering and a Science of Reading Masterclass. Nearly all of these programs are optional for districts. It will be critical to see what required steps the state and legislature will seek moving forward to right these significant losses and to ensure academic recovery is statewide and for all students.

Biden’s New Student Loan Offering Gets A LOT of Feedback

Last Wednesday, the Biden Administration announced that it will roll out a program to cancel billions of dollars in higher education student debt. The plan will offer up to $10,000 in loan forgiveness for individual borrowers making less than $125,000, and up to $20,000 for Pell recipients. It also extends the moratorium on student loan payments until December 2022, and continues its pandemic-era pause on interest.

Good news, right?

Well, not so fast according to liberals, conservatives, moderates, fiscal hawks and Democratic Socialists! It seems like everyone weighed in after the announcement to proclaim the forgiveness amounts either were too small to help those struggling, will unfairly benefit the wealthy, will punish those who have already been able to pay down their debts independently, or were simply not a real answer to the off-the-rails expenses of higher education for most Americans. Here in CT, a report by Third Way released this summer noted that 11 out of Connecticut’s 19 considered colleges had an “economic mobility index” rating in the lower 40% of all colleges nationwide. Their analysis means that the ROI on their degrees, particularly for low income students, are less than their out-of-state competitors on salaries earned after graduation and levels of debt accrued. Hopefully this new Biden forgiveness program offers meaningful help to CT grads, despite all the criticism from all sides. As they say, money talks!

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