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We use data from oral reading fluency (ORF) assessments to examine COVID-19’s effects on children’s ORF in over 100 U.S. school districts. Students’ development of ORF largely stopped in spring 2020 following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fall 2020, students’ gains in reading were stronger and similar to prepandemic rates. However, fall gains were insufficient to recoup spring losses; overall, students’ ORF in second and third grade is approximately 30 percent behind expectations.

A Foundation for Rebuilding to Support the Whole Child
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Strong partnerships between schools and expanded learning programs lay the foundation for building stronger, more equitable support systems for children and their families. Building on prior investments in the expanded learning system, California’s school reopening guidance encouraged intentional coordination across schools and expanded learning providers to best meet the needs of students during this unprecedented time.

Dual Enrollment is Growing Among California High School Students
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Research tells us that high school students who take college courses while they are still in high school benefit from the experience in both systems. To capitalize on the benefits of this dual enrollment, California and other states have moved to increase high school students’ access to college courses.

Because California lacks an integrated state data system to connect information from K–12 to higher education, researchers have been hampered in their efforts to understand to what extent the state’s high school students participate in dual enrollment.

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California is the fifth largest economy in the world and the wealthiest state in the nation. The Golden State is home to countless tech giants, an enormous entertainment industry, major agricultural regions, and many other successful industries. California households earn a median income of $71,000 per year, more than $10,000 above the national average. However, California school funding—even before COVID-19—was insufficient to meet educational goals and address the needs of students, particularly given the state’s high cost of living. How can that be true?

A Summary Brief
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California and the rest of the country are enduring a pandemic-induced economic recession, and school and district leaders are bracing for the fallout. Funding for California schools had improved rapidly between 2013 and 2019, with districts spending roughly $13,100 per pupil in 2018–19 as compared with $9,680 only 6 years earlier. However, that level of funding still fell short of what would have been adequate given California’s goals as a state, the student population it serves, and its cost of living.

Lessons for COVID-19
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In March 2020, most schools in the U.S. transitioned to distance learning. During the transition a significant number of students did not fully engage in learning opportunities. This brief uses administrative panel data from the CORE Districts in California to approximate the impact of the pandemic by analyzing how absenteeism has affected student outcomes in the recent past. We show wide variation in absenteeism impacts on academic and social-emotional outcomes by grade and subgroup, as well as the cumulative effect of different degrees of absence.

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Summary

A new PACE brief summarizes key points from the report Enabling Conditions and Capacities for Continuous Improvement: A Framework for Measuring and Supporting Progress Towards the Goals of the Statewide System of Support and contextualizes the findings within the current challenge of supporting teaching and learning during a pandemic.

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How can schools provide high-quality distance and blended learning during the pandemic? This brief includes a mix of rigorous evidence from extant studies, data from interviews with practitioners who described their learnings from informal experimentation during the spring of 2020, and expert researchers who thought about how to apply research to the current context.

Breaking Down the Issues

A Guide for Parents, Families, and the Public
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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of school districts in California will not have in-person teaching in fall 2020. Over the months ahead, parents, educators, and the public will have to navigate uncertainty in weighing the costs and benefits of opening schools versus supporting learning remotely. This brief offers the questions that parents, educators, and the public should ask about the education, health, safety, and social-emotional needs of children and adults when considering plans for reopening during the pandemic.

Research to Guide Distance and Blended Instruction
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Though the delivery of instruction in the 2020–21 school year will be altered to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a long-standing research base on high-quality instruction can inform decisions about students’ learning and engagement. The following ten recommendations distill the key findings from the PACE report Supporting Learning in the COVID-19 Context, which offers a framework for educators and district leaders to use in their preparation to provide quality instruction through distance and blended models.

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Prior work has shown that levels of self-reported student social-emotional learning (SEL) predict student achievement levels—as well as student achievement gains—but little has been done to understand if within-student changes in student reports of SEL are predictive of changes in theoretically related academic and behavioral outcomes.

A Summary of the PACE Policy Research Panel
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More than 725,000 of California’s K-12 students qualified for special education services in 2018-19, but they entered a system that is often ill-equipped to serve them. This brief summarizes the findings from the PACE Policy Research Panel on Special Education: Organizing Schools to Serve Students with Disabilities in California. We find opportunities for improvement in early screening, identification, and intervention; transitions into and out of special education services; educator preparation and ongoing support; and availability of mental and physical health services.

Views from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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With important state and national elections looming, where do California voters stand on some of the major education policy issues of the day? This report examines findings from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier poll of California voters. The poll represents the views of 2,000 registered California voters across a range of topics from early childhood education to higher education. Based on these results, we have identified five key findings:

Counties, Differentiated Assistance, and the New School Dashboard
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California’s new Statewide System of Support is grounded in the fundamental principles of the Local Control Funding Formula, especially its emphasis on the central role of local educators in determining the best approaches to improvement. This report examines the early implementation of the System of Support, with a focus on the work of the county offices of education (COEs) and the experience of the districts identified for differentiated assistance.

California’s College Readiness Standards and Lessons from District Leaders
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During the past decade, education leaders and policymakers have made significant investments to better align California’s K-12 and postsecondary education systems and to address persistent disparities in educational attainment by race and socioeconomic status.
The Vision for County Offices of Education
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County offices of education (COEs) are expected to provide ongoing support to districts and other local education agencies to drive continuous improvement within California’s education system. Fulfilling this role has required COEs to carry out their historical role as compliance monitors while simultaneously developing the necessary mindsets, skills, and structures and process to build the capacity for continuous improvement within their own offices and the districts they serve.
Survey Results
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In this brief we summarize findings from three surveys that sought to learn how county offices of education (COEs) are changing in response to the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the Statewide System of Support (SSS). COEs have been assigned critically important responsibilities in the implementation of these initiatives, and our survey results suggest that most county superintendents are strongly supportive of the state’s new policy direction.
The Implications of Marin’s Rising Pension Costs and Tax Revolt for Increasing Education Funding
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Summary
Voters in Marin County have long been willing to pass parcel taxes to fund their schools. In 2016, taxes faced unprecedented opposition from local activists; taxes in Kentfield and Mill Valley were defeated or passed by previously unheard-of narrow margins, respectively. What changed? This case study uses district financial and demographic data as well as interviews and focus groups with advocates and education leaders to answer this question. It was clear that:
  • The current financial situation is not sustainable.
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Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD), California’s thirteenth largest school district, faces a looming deficit and must make significant budget adjustments to avoid state intervention. This case study explores how the district reached this point, how its finances compare with other districts in Sacramento County, and what the implications are for students, particularly those with the greatest needs.
The Impact of Unmotivated Questionnaire Respondents on Data Quality
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Education researchers use surveys widely. Yet, critics question respondents’ ability to provide high-quality responses. As schools increasingly use student surveys to drive policymaking, respondents’ (lack of) motivation to provide quality responses may threaten the wisdom of using surveys for data-based decision-making. To better understand student satisficing (sub-optimal responding on surveys) and its impact on data quality, we examined the pervasiveness and impact of this practice on a large-scale social-emotional learning survey administered to 409,721 students in grades 2-12.
Evidence from California’s CORE School Districts
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While the importance of social-emotional learning for student success is well established, educators and researchers have less knowledge and agreement about which social-emotional skills are most important for students and how these skills distribute across student subgroups.
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We illustrate the application of mixture IRT models to evaluate the possibility of respondent confusion due to the negative wording of certain items on a social-emotional learning (SEL) assessment. Using actual student self-report ratings on four social-emotional learning scales collected from students in grades 3-12 from CORE districts in the state of California, we also evaluate the consequences of the potential confusion in biasing student- and school-level scores as well as correlational relationships between SEL and student-level variables.
Consistent Gender Differences in Students’ Self-Efficacy
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Academic self-efficacy is a student’s belief in their ability to perform within a school environment. Prior research shows that students experience a drop in academic self-efficacy during middle school that is particularly steep for female students and results in lower self-efficacy for girls than boys throughout middle and high school. In this brief, we probe whether this pattern is consistent across student groups defined by demographics, achievement level, and school of attendance.
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This brief applies value-added models to student surveys in the CORE Districts to explore whether social-emotional learning (SEL) surveys can be used to measure effective classroom-level supports for SEL. The authors find that classrooms differ in their effect on students’ growth in self-reported SEL—even after accounting for school-level effects. Results suggest that classroom-level effects within schools may be larger than school-level effects.
Lessons from the CORE Districts
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The education sector is embracing the hope that continuous improvement will lead to more beneficial student outcomes than standards-based reform and other approaches to policies and practice in prior decades. This report examines attempts in California to realize the potential of continuous improvement in some of the state’s largest districts. Policy Analysis for California Education and the CORE Districts, a nonprofit collaborative of eight urban school districts, have been engaged in a research-practice partnership since 2015.