Louisiana students can expect a test as soon as they return

State superintendent says tests will tell how far behind students fell

Paul Habans Charter School in New Orleans handed out supplies including food, books and computers to students and the community when Louisiana schools closed because of the spread of coronavirus. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

While four months without school may sound like every elementary school student’s dream, it also means that those students will likely have fallen behind academically to some degree.

Because of that expected learning loss, Louisiana State Superintendent Cade Brumley said in a Tuesday interview that the Louisiana Department of Education plans to use universal screeners and diagnostic tools to assess where each returning student is, in math and reading specifically.

“Whenever you think of standardized testing, you think of multiple days and a battery of assessments,” said Brumley. “We’re certainly thinking of something much less cumbersome and that can be done fairly easily by our schools.”

Brumley said the plan is to run these diagnostic tests when Louisiana schools are scheduled to return in the fall.

After consultation with the Louisiana Department of Health, the education department released its reopening guidelines for the state’s public schools last week.

Read those guidelines here.

The prediction of learning loss after a long, unexpected interruption of in-person learning was the focus of a recent report by the research firm McKinsey & Co. That report predicts that the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic will exacerbate already existing racial disparities between White students and their Black and Hispanic counterparts.

McKinsey & Co. imagines a scenario that assumes a “virus resurgence” where in-school instruction does not fully resume before January 2021. Using those assumptions, the firm estimates that Hispanic students will have experienced more than nine months of learning loss and Black students more than 10 months. White students will experience loss, too, but their six months lost would be significantly less than their Black and Hispanic counterparts.

McKinsey & Co. ran the same scenario for low-income students across the racial spectrum, and estimated 12.4 months of learning lost. 

“Lower-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning or to a conducive learning environment,” the firm reports, “such as a quiet space with minimal distractions, devices they do not need to share (and) high-speed internet.” Because poor parents are more likely to have to physically report to work and higher-income parents are more likely to be able to work from home, the resulting gap in “parental academic supervision” also disadvantages students from poorer households.

Brumley said the diagnostics Louisiana schools use will be essential in figuring out the actual impact that being out of school for four months had on students. Once school systems and the education department have a better understanding of that, Brumley said they can work on finding solutions.

“If we do a universal diagnostic in 4th grade and we see that x percentage of students are now off grade-level in literacy, that means we need to respond in some way with policy and/or try to secure additional funding to overcome that deficit,” he said.