BISMARCK — There's almost no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted K-12 students' learning and progression. However, the best way to get students back on track is up for debate.

North Dakota Superintendent Kirsten Baesler offered a list of proposals gathered by the state Department of Public Instruction in a presentation to state lawmakers Thursday, Feb. 18.

The proposals presented to the Education and Environment Division of the House Appropriations Committee are ones that schools could implement to help students with learning setbacks exacerbated by the pandemic. Some of the ideas require legislative action, while others would merely need to be enacted by school districts.

Some notable suggestions included extending the 2020-21 school year until June, developing a 10-month or year-round school calendar and beginning the 2021-2022 school year in early August.

Last week, about 40 educators and stakeholders met to gather feedback about the best ways to accelerate student learning and provide resources for students. This group emphasized that the Legislature should not take a "one-size-fits-all" approach to speed up learning across the state, and mandates generally were not favored.

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Most teachers support letting schools decide the best ways to increase learning recovery for students, said Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United, an educators and public workers union with about 11,500 members.

Many schools have stayed open during the pandemic and may not have been widely impacted by some of the more adverse outcomes associated with distance learning. But the most important factor behind getting students back on track, Archuleta said, is understanding just how profound the pandemic learning gap is for students.

"Once we've identified those students who do have a gap caused by interrupted in-person learning, we can create individual education plans for those students," Archuleta said.

Last month, Baesler told lawmakers about 27% to 28% of students who tested on par with their grade level in fall 2019 tested below their grade level in fall 2020 in reading, writing and math. She said a summer learning gap is normal and expected, but the pandemic and distance learning worsened the situation.

One of the ideas that gained the most support by some 20 education stakeholders surveyed was "high-impact tutoring," which, according to the Department of Public Instruction, would include carving out time in the school day for students to spend with a licensed educator. One-on-one instruction tends to work best in primary grades, while groups of three to five students are effective in secondary grades.

Lawmakers last month expressed deep concern over the learning losses caused by the pandemic and charged Baesler with creating a list of recommendations to accelerate student learning. Baesler told The Forum last month that increasing instruction time is needed to improve student learning.

"I think the only way we're going to accelerate this learning recovery is to provide additional instruction and additional learning," Baesler said last month.

Based on what's currently known and how little data exists about learning loss in North Dakota, there's nothing to indicate students need an extended school year, Archuleta said.

"Frankly, I think that would almost be impossible to do this year," Archuleta said.

The Education and Environment Division of the House Appropriations Committee is expected to meet next week to discuss the ideas gathered by the Department of Public Instruction.

Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

DPI proposals to close pandemic learning gap by inforumdocs on Scribd