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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'B' is for below grade level (and chronically absent)

"Rosie" averaged an 83 in core classes and tested more than two months above grade level in fifth grade in 2019. She was absent three days. In 2022, Rosie was 10 months below grade level in math and reading and absent 10 days. She averaged an 83.

Achievement is down and absenteeism is way up, yet report cards show the same grades -- or higher -- as before the pandemic, concludes False Signals, a new report by EdNavigator and Learning Heroes. No wonder "families believe that everything is back to normal or will be soon." No wonder demand is low for tutoring and summer school.

The number of students scoring below grade level and chronically absent has quadrupled since before the pandemic, the report finds. "Yet more than 40 percent of these students still earn Bs or better in core subjects."

Researchers analyzed two districts, one with above-average achievement and another with scores around the national average. They found the average student fell five months further behind in math and English Language Arts (ELA). Chronic absenteeism soared.

Schools should "send clear signals" to students and parents about the need for regular attendance with special attention to families whose children "need extra support," the report urges.

That requires "re-norming" grades so they reflect "educational realities." Schools should "communicate to students and their families where they stand" relative to grade-level standards, advises the report.

In short, be honest about how students are doing. Rosie was earning a real "B" before schools closed. Give her the motivation to show up, work harder and improve.

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