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Lawmakers consider longer school year to compensate for COVID-19 “learning loss”

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Students and teachers are reeling from the effects of disrupted learning caused by COVID-19.

“Many of our students have really not flourished as much as we would want them to,” State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said.

Baesler says about 28 percent of North Dakota students from third grade through high school are now performing below grade level on math, reading and writing tests compared to 2019.

For students with special needs or those living in poverty, the problem is worse.

“The gap is even wider in those categories,” Baesler said.

That’s why legislators are calling on Baesler and the Department of Public Instruction to propose a plan to accelerate learning recovery.

“Extending the school year may be something we present to the legislature, having summer school may be something the legislature may consider and decide upon, but at the end of the day, it will be our legislature to decide what is expected of our schools as we move forward,” Baesler said.

Baesler says she’s researching what other states are doing to address learning loss, and working with teachers and principals across the state to find solutions.

House Appropriations Education and Environment section Chairman Representative David Monson says the committee is even discussing how education is done in other countries.

“My roommates in college were from Canada and they actually, many years ago, they had ten-month school years there. It might work here. This is not a new concept,” Monson said.

North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta says he’s confident in the Department of Public Instruction’s ability to propose a plan, but it’s too early to comment on what it could mean for teachers.

“There are some good ideas out there, I think they’re going to investigate them all and make the decisions that will best work for the students of North Dakota,” Archuleta said.

Regardless of what lawmakers decide, it won’t affect this school year, but next year, and discussions are still in very early stages.

“It’s a long ways from probably happening, but the COVID is bringing in all kinds of new discussion,” Monson said.

Baesler says she’s putting together a group of educators to meet with, to review what strategies are available, and expects to have a plan to present to lawmakers in early February.

Currently, 74 percent of school buildings in the state are 100 percent face-to-face learning, according to Baesler.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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