Post-pandemic learning loss continues to critically impact the U.S. education system. Some students spent six months away from instruction, and schools have struggled to play catch-up to address knowledge and skill gaps. In the years since COVID-19, emergency financial aid has been deployed on the federal, state and local level. As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law March 27, 2020, $30.75 billion was set aside for the Education Stabilization Fund. $13.2 billion was allotted to the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) to provide local education agencies with emergency relief funding to address the impact of COVID-19.
The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, signed into law December 27, 2020, provided an additional $54.3 billion for the ESSER fund. Finally, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act was signed into law on March 11, 2021, including an additional $122 billion for the ARP ESSER fund. In addition, 20% of the ARP ESSER fund must be used to address learning loss. This portion of the fund must ensure that the interventions implemented respond to students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs while also addressing the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on students from low-income families, students of color, children with disabilities, English learners, migratory students, students experiencing homelessness and children and youth in foster care.
Special education (SPED) students were particularly vulnerable to falling behind due to lapses in structured programming and educational assistance. In one poll, 90% of special education parents reported that their child experienced learning loss or regression during the pandemic.
Because each student presents unique academic and life-skill goals, data collection is necessary to measure and determine if they are benefiting from their educational programming. This takes valuable time and thoughtful planning from educators who were already stretched thin prior to COVID-19. In response to the emergency funding and future grants, schools must contemplate their staff’s current resources and assess their efficiency in closing COVID-19 learning gaps.
Outdated data collection wastes resources.
Studies show that SPED educators struggle with timely data collection mostly due to unclear or inconsistent systems of measurement. This feeds into less informative or delayed reporting for fellow team members, parents and administration. In addition, many still use manual data collection methods, like handwritten notes, sticky notes and printed sheets in binders, all of which are prone to human error and require them to synthesize data entries by hand to inform their education plans.
None of these practices allow educators to spend their time where they are needed most – making a difference in the lives of their students.
So, how can schools ensure that their SPED teams are making the most of their time and focusing their efforts on programming that drives student achievement? The answer lies in standardized, real-time data.
Digital data streamlines progress.
Digital, real-time data empowers educators to work more effectively by simplifying and standardizing the collection process. Data software, like Catalyst, then allows them to immediately address the unique needs of their students.
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Technology helps schools confirm that they are utilizing their resources well. Integrating data software into educators’ resources makes collection easy and fast and can simultaneously interpret student progress. The time, resources and mental capacity saved amplifies student achievement. Here is how:
Easing the collection of good, informative data.
If your collection process is not standardized, how do you know that your data is good? Good data is accurate, timely and relevant and is key in personalizing instruction for children with special educational needs. Most educators struggle to track and show progress due to unclear expectations. Collection software ensures that consistent data points are being gathered by each team member.
Data collection does not have to be a frustrating process. Clear guidelines, templates and suggested programming within data software make formulating accessible lessons simple.
In turn, this practice develops better communication among educators, parents and administration. When you are all speaking the same language students can achieve positive progress.
Forming comprehensive learner profiles and effective programming.
More robust, yet simplified, note-taking and skill-tracking can help educators create a more holistic and accurate profile of their students. Educators must consider their students’ cultural, environmental and economic circumstances. These factors can be more effectively noted and intertwined in programming to ensure it is adapted to their unique needs.
Once a plan is implemented, how do you track how effectively it is helping a student progress? By accessing digital uniform notes and assessments, educators can target academic and behavioral regressions or inefficiencies. A real-time and more in-depth understanding of how a student reacts to certain education programs can help implement these interventions quickly.
Creating essential reports for necessary parties.
The assessment and execution of education plans is an ongoing process – one that SPED educators need to be able to interpret and communicate results regularly with staff members and parents.
Instead of flipping through pages of handwritten notes to compile a report, digital data software allows for instantaneous and highly customizable reporting for any party. Educators can easily visualize progress reports for parents or show the effectiveness of their programming over time for administrators.
Post-pandemic, investment into educators and their resources is clearly paramount. Digital data software can ease and inform the path toward student achievement. This powerful tool strengthens special education programs and will put time back into the hands of educators, creating better outcomes for the now and into the future.