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'Devastating' learning loss: Dallas ISD trustees consider changing academic goals, adding mediation for students

Elementary students have regressed in math and reading during the pandemic. One option for mediation is extending the school year calendar.

During a Dallas ISD school board meeting Thursday, the data presented showed the "COVID slide" has become a reality for many students.

The district is looking for ways to remediate learning loss due to the negative impact of COVID-19 on students' grades and performance, such as by improving attendance and engagement.

School board Trustee Dustin Marshall said "the learning loss this year are devastating" and the "worst-case scenario that could've happened."

"We're talking about a generational impact here to children," he said. "We've got to act boldly and quickly."

Trustees and district leadership discussed the district's five-year learning goals and targets during the board briefing, which were projected to be decreased — an idea many trustees weren't fond of.

"The concept of lowering goals is one that I'm fundamentally against," Marshall said. "It's important that goals need to be attainable... You can't have a goal out there that is simply not attainable. There are impacts on morale, the strategies, the tactics."

Overall, 30% of students lost learning in reading and 50% of students lost learning in math, compared to performance numbers in December 2019, according to data presented at the meeting.

Some students aren't achieving at their grade level. And not all grade levels and subject areas showed the same declines during the pandemic, according to the presentation.

The coronavirus pandemic moved students online from March through the end of that last school year in May. In the current school year, most students at Dallas ISD are learning in-person, but there are still many students learning online.

District 5-year goals

The district already had a five-year plan underway to improve student performance and academics, but the new lowered goals for the 202021 school year were presented at the meeting.

"We need to talk to parents and students about what's not working," said Trustee Joyce Foreman. "Lowering the goal doesn't make us better, it just makes us look better."

The data was presented by the chiefs of staff for the offices of school leadership, and evaluation and assessment.

For example, the district's five-year plan for Goal 5 is to increase middle school student achievement on state assessments from 40% to 50% by January 2025. Now with the new COVID-19 adjustments, the goal for this school year was lowered from 42 to 39.

"The one that most concerns me is the drastic dropoff in math," Trustee Ben Mackey said.

RELATED: Dallas ISD receives 15,000 new rapid tests from state officials to help stop spread of COVID-19

One of the larger impacts of COVID-19 was on mathematics, Goal 3. It aimed to bring student achievement to be "meets level or above" on the third-grade state assessment from 42.3%, which was achieved in the 2018-2019 school year, to 56% by June 2025. The goal was lowered from 44% to 26% with COVID-19 adjustments.

Other goal changes included a reduction in the percent of students who will enroll in college, lowered from 59% to 55%.

The percent of graduates who are college, career or military ready was changed from 40% to 42%.

Mediation

Trustee Miguel Solis said the district needs targeted, mandated mediation to help students who are struggling.

The idea of extending the school year was also brought up as an option. 

The district hopes to request online learners who are struggling to come to in-person learning, but parents can decline.

Other parts of the plan to accelerate learning included improving attendance and engagement, provide more support for teachers, and adjust instruction, such as small group or individualized tutoring.

The district leaders who presented the data said it's still unclear where Dallas ISD students fare compared to the rest of the nation with COVID slide.

"This data shows these kids are hurting," Marshall said. "We need some drastic interventions."