Updated: May 7
The following is sourced from an article by Tighan Simonton from a local Pittsburgh newspaper.
After spending nearly a month out of class for a pandemic, Pittsburgh Public Schools is hoping the summer might provide an opportunity to make up for lost time – but planning the programs has become a challenge.
The district is looking for ways to modify and extend the annual Summer Dreamers Academy, a free learning camp for student up through fifth grade. Chief of School Performance David May-Stein is also hoping to allow single courses at the high school level.
“But that may change based off of any new information that comes in and our ability to ensure that every student does have the device they need to participate,” he said.
After the corona virus forced schools across the country to teach online, educators in Western Pennsylvania are contemplating how they will tackle the issue of summer learning. And as students spend excessive time outside the classroom, many worry the learning loss that typically occurs over the summer will be worse than usual.
At Kiski Area School District, Superintendent Tim Scott said the district is holding off on finalizing plans for its extended school year program. He’s hoping there will be some scenario where students and teachers can meet in person.
“We’re just waiting, all of us, waiting for the guidelines to be announced and implemented,” Scott said.
Rosanne Javorsky, interim director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said that educators don’t really know what the long-term impact of this year’s “summer slide” will be. At least one study suggests Covid-19 could cause students to retain only 70% of their reading progress and 50% of math progress.
“Trying to reverse a learning loss of this magnitude is huge,” said Javorsky. “We’re not sure what that’s going to look like this year.” The Allegheny Intermediate Unit provides specialized services to public schools in Allegheny County.
Catherine Augustine, a senior policy researcher at RAND Corp., has been studying summer learning since 2010. She said summer learning loss will likely be made worse by the pandemic — and it will be difficult to address if schools can’t reconvene as normal in the fall.
“Not only will the summer slide be worse, but I really think the disparities will be worse,” said Augustine, who is also director of RAND’s Pittsburgh office.
The main problem with the summer slide, Augustine said, is that kids in low-income families tend to fall behind the most. There is no documented reason, but there are a host of theories, namely: low-income students are less likely to engage in private lessons, summer camps and other group activities, she said.
In an ongoing series of reports for RAND, Augustine and co-author Lindsey Thompson write about how district, city, state and federal policies support and constrain school district-provided summer programs. Free summer programs are critical to addressing the “opportunity gap” between families, they write.
But under pandemic conditions, Augustine said these students are even more at risk. Numerous news reports have documented inequities with access to technology and internet access among less wealthy districts and neighborhoods. Now these students are spending even more time away from classrooms and they likely won’t have access to in-person summer programming. Additionally, Augustine said the cancellation of state tests could prevent districts from collecting data to identify certain at-risk groups in need of extra help.
This year’s summer slide could cause more damage for the region’s students than just difficulty at the beginning of next school year. Augustine said there could be long-term effects that follow grade school children all the way to high school.
Many school districts are trying to prepare programming for this summer, said Javorsky of the AIU, but they aren’t sure what to plan for. They are partnering with museums, libraries and other partners in Pittsburgh to organize educational activities. They’re collaborating with each other, trying to be as creative as possible.
“Superintendents, principals, teachers — they’re all very concerned about this potential learning loss, and they’re trying to plan what the learning will look like over the summer,” Javorsky said. “The challenge is we don’t know yet if we’ll be able to provide learning on site.”
Hempfield Area schools are preparing for both online and on-site possibilities as they consider what extended school year lessons will look like. Credit recovery — what most people think of when they hear “summer school” — will be online. Tammy Wolicki, superintendent, said teachers are also paying closer attention to students who are not performing as well as they were before the school closure in mid-March.
“We do not want children to be failing a course because of this situation,” she said.
But the district is setting most of its focus on the fall and summer 2021 for the bulk of remediation, said Wolicki. Face-to-face instruction has always been the best way to work with students — even more so if students need extra help to make up for learning loss.
“We’re really looking at when school resumes and even into next summer, how we can use our time differently in order to close those achievement gaps,” Wolicki said. “This summer is not our biggest opportunity.”
Planning through uncertainty is a trend throughout the region — one that districts are now very familiar with, as they’ve tackled online learning plans, graduation ceremonies and other responsibilities.
“The reality is we have to think about flexibility and continuity of learning in ways that we have never had to do before,” said Brian Miller, superintendent of Pine-Richland School District.
Miller is trying planning to expand summer learning options. While an extended school year is always offered for students with special education needs, the district will now offer lessons to other targeted groups, including students in early grades who are developing foundational literacy skills, band students who need regular practice with their instruments and more.
“We generally would not have a systematic approach for all students,” Miller said.
Pine-Richland recently announced an adjusted school calendar. The district schools will close May 29, to make extra time to finalize planning for summer and fall instruction.
At the Kiski Area School District, the credit recovery program has always been online. Scott, the superintendent, said it shouldn’t see any changes this year.
Either way, Javorsky said the learning loss brought by the pandemic will likely take years of remediation. For now, the first steps are up in the air.
“We wish we had a little more grip on what’s going to be happening this summer, but we’re planning for all events,” Javorsky said.