The Pandemic’s Ripple Effects

Schools must balance strategies to address unfinished learning and tackle emerging issues such as developmental delays.

Topics: Pandemic Leadership

L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE

One aspect of schooling has returned to normal: Students are back to learning in classrooms. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news? Assessments and data tell the story of unfinished learning for most student populations—an unavoidable byproduct of school-aged children being out of the classroom for almost two years.

The latest Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment of Educational Progress tells part of the story. It shows average score declines in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math. A three-point dip in reading in both grades was less than some expected, but math scores showed that the gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students were only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This isn’t surprising news—especially to school administrators and teachers, who have worked tirelessly to support students in unconventional and innovative ways since the pandemic hit. Children’s lives were upended, taking a serious toll on their mental health and showing that the disruptions brought on by COVID-19 have rippled well beyond unfinished learning. Students are exhibiting signs of developmental delays, and it isn’t going unnoticed among school leaders.

We understand the pressure to raise achievement, shore up student learning, and get scores up, and we know you’re doing everything possible to prioritize these goals. But we also know that the principal’s role is to support the whole child, meaning schools must balance supports that address unfinished learning with strategies to tackle compounding issues resulting from the pandemic, such as developmental delays.

We asked members how they’re using ESSER COVID-​relief funding to address issues such as these. One principal in Iowa said his school was able to use the funding to establish a “JUMP START” summer program for students most affected by unfinished learning and hire teachers for reading and math support, resulting in students improving enough to be at their grade level the next year and exhibit noticeable growth in behavioral and emotional consistency. One bonus? The program led to higher teacher retention, too.

This is just one school’s story of overcoming a challenge; we know that such stories abound in schools across the country. And it’s important for you to share your story with your communities, in conversations with policymakers and legislators, and within your school. No success is too small to celebrate.

As it does every year, NAESP will host an advocacy conference this year from March 26–29 that culminates with in-person visits with federal legislators on Capitol Hill to discuss the relevant and urgent needs of school communities. The most impactful way to illustrate such issues is by sharing schools’ stories of challenge and success. Amplify these stories by adding your own using #PrincipalsAdvocate on social media.

We see you and your efforts, and we know that your focus is always on the students. As school leaders’ roles change to adapt to the new and rippling issues brought on by the pandemic, NAESP remains here to support you.

Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE, is executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.