SC education officials: Learning loss concentrated in lower grades

News13 Investigates

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — When one hears ‘classroom interruptions,’ they may think of whispering or paper planes. But during the pandemic, it meant virtual class and quarantine.

That’s why school districts in South Carolina are hopeful for a more ‘normal’ school year where teachers can close any gaps that students have.

The hardest part about last year for fourth grader Carolina Jester was the change.

“Because like most autistic children, she needs routine,” said Susan Canterbury, Caroline’s grandmother. “And the hybrid, it was at home, at school, at home, at school and then they had changes. The plexiglass was very hard for her.”

It wasn’t easy, but Caroline managed to get straight A’s at Waccamaw Elementary in Conway.

“We just had to keep it a strict routine,” Canterbury said. “So she knew exactly when we were going to work on each subject.”

John Washburn, executive director for accountability and instruction for Horry County Schools said, like Caroline, students at Horry County Schools overall fared pretty well with the pandemic.

“I 100% attribute that to the level of instruction our teachers give on a day to day basis,” Washburn said.

Washburn said the biggest area the district has seen a lag is in English language arts.

At Florence One Schools, administrators said the gaps are much greater in younger students.

“We’re talking about our kindergarten and first grade students who are emergent readers, being placed on a platform where they don’t have a teacher face-to-face to mold them,” F1S Assistant Superintendent for Pre K-5th Michelle McBride said.

The state department of education said it’s the students who were already behind that had the hardest time.

“Generally we’re seeing, three months, seems to be about that much learning lag, if you will,” SCDE spokesperson Ryan Brown said. “But that’s particularly prevalent among the lower grades in particular in English language arts and math.”

Federal money is funneling to South Carolina school districts to help. The state is getting more than $2 billion in the third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. Florence 1 Schools is getting more than $40 million. Horry County Schools is getting More than $125 million.

“It’s roughly three and a half times what we generally receive,” Brown said. “So it is quite a bit of money. It does have some required uses.”

20% must go to address learning loss.

“That money was then used by our district to hire specific interventionists at all three levels to provide that additional instruction,” Washburn with Horry County Schools said. “Whether it be a co-teaching model, or a pullout model where they can get targeted intervention for those students.”

Florence 1 Schools plans to make similar investments in staffing with the funding, and also wants to put money into supplies, books and more.

“Looking at things like building projects, construction, maintenance of key items to ensure that we’ve got quality buildings and learning spaces, air quality as part of that,” Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Gregory Hall said.

Districts in South Carolina must submit their plans for how they want to spend ESSER funds by August 24. You can see approved Academic Recovery Plans here.

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