“Teaching and learning was severely disrupted for more than two years so I don’t think anyone was surprised by the state’s data indicating the learning loss experienced by students across the state, and Springfield Public Schools mirrors that trend,” said Warwick. “Our priority now is to recover that learning loss. We are already engaged in that work, and we’ve seen small pockets of progress, but we really have a lot more work to do.”
Warwick made his remarks following the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) release of statewide MCAS results today. Statewide, 2022 MCAS results show losses in English Language Arts; and signs of improvement in math and science scores.
Warwick pointed out that the 2022 MCAS results should not be compared to the 2021 test in isolation. “We must look at the bigger picture, which is where student achievement was in 2019, before the pandemic. When we analyze the data from that perspective, it makes the 2022 losses more consequential and the gains less momentous,” he said. “The 2022 results are our new baseline, and we must compare to pre-pandemic student achievement data. That’s where we need to, not only get back to, but also surpass.”
Keeping children healthy so that they can stay in school will be paramount to moving forward, Warwick said, pointing to the dramatic increase in chronic absenteeism amongst students during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, the average student statewide missed six days of school. In 2022, that number skyrocketed to 15, according to information provided by DESE.
Warwick said he believes that the stressors of the pandemic combined with the effects of the physical virus itself both contributed greatly to the learning loss students experienced.
“You cannot learn when you are not in school, nor can you learn when you are not feeling well physically or emotionally,” said Warwick, adding that student absenteeism does not account for the added impact of teacher absences due to COVID-19. “The disruption in learning occurs not only when students are not in school, but also when their regular teacher is not in school,” he said.
Warwick said the school district has already begun implementation of a number of strategies to accelerate the recovery of pandemic-related learning loss. Counted among them is the district’s dispersal last year of Student Opportunity Act and ESSER funding directly to schools.
“We provided the schools with funds to be used on those intervention strategies that will have the greatest impact on their student body. Every school is different, and we did not want to prescribe cookie-cutter intervention programs, but rather allow schools to find extra-help programs that are customized to address the unique needs of their student body,” said Warwick.
In addition, the district transformed summer school programming this year so that it was no longer a requirement for students needing extra support at key grade levels, but rather an educational programming that was made available for students needing extra support at all grade levels.
And this fall, the district built on that extended school-year strategy, by providing an option for extended school-day opportunities in all schools at all grade levels.
Warwick also pointed to the district’s new strategic plan, borne out of the community’s vision of what students need upon graduating high school to be successful in college, career, and life, it’s Portrait of a Graduate, as a key strategy for moving student achievement forward. “It is our blueprint, and it centers around the reimagination of what teaching and learning can and should look like to best engage and inspire students,” he said.
Some early focal points resulting from the Portrait of a Graduate include more problem-solving based learning; a commitment to staff diversity, inclusion, recruitment, and equity; and increased social-emotional supports for students, among others.
Warwick emphasized the importance of addressing the social-emotional needs of students in combatting learning loss. “We know that urban centers like ours suffered more greatly through the pandemic for a variety of reasons and the residual effects of those stressors have lingered on,” Warwick said. He added that the district expanded counseling supports at all schools and implemented a program called City Connects in all schools. The program exists to connect students and families with resources of support outside of school, such as counseling services, social services, financial support resources and more.