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New SBAC Results During Back to School Week, USEd Approves CT ARP Plan, COVID Mitigation in Schools

This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: What the New SBAC Results Tell Us As Students Return to School, USEd Approves CT’s ARP ESSER Plan, and the Latest on COVID Mitigation in Schools.

New Test Results Reaffirm Need for In-Person Learning During Back-to-School Week

It's Back-to-School Week in Connecticut: in-person for all and–for some students and teachers–for the first time in 18 months. The State Department of Education has released the latest results of the Connecticut Smarter Balanced Assessment, which tested Math and English Language Arts (ELA) for grades 3-8 in the 2020-21 school year. The results show that the pandemic had a negative impact on academic achievement and growth, and, perhaps even more notably, that students who attended either mostly or fully in-person lost less ground than those who learned in hybrid or fully remote models. As summarized in this morning's Hartford Courant story—in ELA, 60% of in-person students across all grade levels met or exceeded grade-level standards, while only 46% of hybrid and 36% of remote students met the same benchmark. In Math, 52% of in-person students met or exceeded grade-levels, while 34% of hybrid students and only 23% of remote students met the mark.

With this news in mind, we applaud the State Department of Education and Connecticut educators for making safe, in-person classrooms a reality for students this week. We wish all students and teachers the healthy, fruitful and fulfilling school year they deserve!

USEd Approves CT’s ARP ESSER Plan for Schools

On Friday, Governor Lamont announced that the US Department of Education (USEd) has approved Connecticut's Plan for Coronavirus Emergency Relief Funding in Schools. The remaining $369M in ARP ESSER Funds have accordingly been distributed to the Connecticut State Department of Education. To address the academic impact of lost instructional time, Connecticut’s plan includes strategies like: supporting a model K-8 curriculum; investing in digital platforms to accelerate learning and credit recovery; high-dosage tutoring for students with specific learning disabilities; and community-based mental health partnerships to help students transition back to the classroom. The $110M state set-aside has largely been committed to addressing learning loss, summer enrichment, and afterschool programming.

But as EdWeek lately notes, most state ARP ESSER plans were created before the Delta variant began to make waves. Some school districts across the country are now altering their plans–redirecting funds meant to mitigate learning loss or update HVAC systems, and putting them towards initiatives like hiring more nurses and setting competitive worker salaries. Time will tell whether Connecticut will also need to change course.

The Latest on COVID Mitigation Strategies

Monday's "All Things Considered" featured Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias, who talked about trusting the science on COVID-19 mitigation strategies inside schools. She spoke about the need for masking and about how her thinking on teacher vaccination mandates has evolved since the FDA issued its approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

Just a week ago, Governor Lamont was confronted by a group of anti-mask protestors in Cheshire, who cut short a back-to-school roundtable discussion. Nevertheless, as a CT Mirror headline this week notes, the Governor continues to stand firm on school mask mandates, newly backed by a CDC study that supports the policy. At the other end of the spectrum in the national school masking dialogue is Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis has banned districts from issuing mask mandates and is withholding funds from two school districts that had contravened the ban. (Don't miss yesterday's Fortune article, contrasting the approaches of Governors Lamont and DeSantis.)

On vaccinations for teachers and school staff, Governor Lamont’s mandate has created new, albeit necessary, paperwork for schools and districts as they reopen: they must now track all K-12 school employees' vaccination statuses, and weigh requests for religious and medical exemptions. According to EdWeek, to date, Connecticut is one of six states, plus the District of Columbia, to require teachers to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing (California, Connecticut, DC, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico). Another two states (Oregon and Washington) require teacher vaccination without an option for testing.

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