Fires, hurricanes leave districts weighing lost learning time ahead of testing season
- Adding 10 minutes to the school day for several weeks and shortening Thanksgiving break is how Manatee County School District (FL), one of those hit hard by Hurricane Irma in September, has tried to make up for lost instructional days, NPR reports.
- Other districts say they have built enough additional days into the school calendar to accommodate the large gaps caused by natural disasters, which, in addition to the hurricanes and flooding, still include wildfires in several California communities.
- Administrators say they are concerned about how the missed class time will impact student performance on state tests in the spring, and they hope state officials will take the unavoidable gaps in the year into consideration, the article says. Students in Texas, for example, must pass state tests in order to advance to 6th grade, 9th grade and to graduate from high school.
As school districts continue to track and seek to reduce chronic absenteeism, many this year are forced to address learning loss for all of their students, not just a portion. On top of missing big chunks of the curriculum, students might also have lost their homes or be experiencing emotional issues that make catching up on schoolwork even more challenging. Experts recommend strategies such as tutoring, mentoring programs and trauma-focused interventions.
While technology has enabled many students in districts such as Florida's Orange County Public Schools to keep up with some assignments, not all families have reliable internet access at home. While some districts have added instructional time to the make up for the lost days, other teachers will be trying to teach the same amount of material in less time. Lessons from past storms, such as Katrina and Andrew, can help educators dealing with this year’s disasters. For example, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, guidance counselors in the St. Bernard Parish School District in Louisiana were trained to use data to identify which students needed intervention programs in order to stay on track for graduation.
They're also likely looking for ways to prevent outcomes such as trauma-related symptoms. Following Katrina, researchers found ongoing effects among the 200,000 students who were displaced. Five years after the hurricane, their study showed that almost 35% of middle and high school students were a year or more behind in school, and 4.5 times more likely to have “symptoms consistent with serious emotional disturbance” than a comparable group of children surveyed the year before. The researchers called for increasing mental health services available to students affected by such disasters — lessons that can be useful to administrators that want to have response plans in place in the event their schools are affected by future storms or other tragedies.
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