Between last March’s abrupt shift to all-remote learning and inconsistent reopening plans, 2020 has been a rough year for academics. Some state lawmakers want the Department of Education to study the issue and develop a response plan.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said such a look should have started months ago.

“We know that the budget is not going to be flush,” Ruiz said. “So if there’s only going to be a certain amount of money, how are we going to create a blueprint to ensure that we bring children back up to speed?”

The bill, S3214, actually calls for two reports – one on learning loss and one on the continuation of school services during the public health emergency.

“Let’s have a reckoning with truth so we can create policy that helps every single one,” Ruiz said. “It is not something to hurt a practitioner in a classroom, to keep a child behind, to grade the school or to take money away from the district.”

At the hearing where the bill was endorsed last week by the Senate Education Committee, Debra Bradley, director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, said school leaders share Ruiz’s concern but that now’s a bad time for additional data collection.

“Our members tell us their top concerns right now are keeping students safe first and foremost, physically and emotionally, and then students engaged in learning,” Bradley said.

Betsy Ginsburg, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, said that while learning-loss data is important, the bill’s goal of getting information about 1.3 million students in 30 days would be difficult.

“Our educators who are overstretched already would be forced to turn their attention away from the vital task and immediate task of supporting students in their educational, emotional and physical needs,” Ginsburg said.

The state Department of Education announced Thursday that it will award $2.5 million in grants to 16 districts, approximately $156,500 each, to address learning loss resulting from school closures. Money for the grants comes from federal aid.

“The New Jersey Department of Education is committed to working with districts in this crucial endeavor to advance student learning in all New Jersey schools,” said Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan.

“We know that mitigating the effects of learning loss is not a one-time fix,” she said. “Rather, this grant signifies the department’s growing commitment to enhancing the suite of tools and supports we provide districts to measure, remediate, and prevent gaps in student learning resulting from COVID-19.”

Patricia Morgan, executive director of JerseyCAN, said it’s important for the state to collect data from districts to address “the next pandemic that’s going to be coming for our students, which is learning loss.”

Morgan said the state needs to understand the disproportionate impact of having some students in-person, some all-remote and some hybrid. She said the only study done so far in New Jersey showed up to 174 days could have been lost in reading last year and up to 464 days in math.

“Without an understanding of how big this problem is, we will not be able to quickly mobilize as a state to get students and families back on the right track,” Morgan said.

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