Student Performance During Covid-19 Pandemic in Florida

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected students’ performance in Florida due to restrictions on in-person learning. Particularly, K-12 schools in Miami-Dade County have reported widening achievement gaps among different groups of students and declining performance levels. This policy analysis paper outlines what the State of Florida should do to make sure that K-12 students are not left behind academically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Key sections of the paper review existing policy programs, analyze the framework for evaluating their effectiveness, and outline policy alternatives that could address some of the implementation gaps associated with contemporary risk mitigation plans.

Problem Statement

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Florida education sector have created concern that K12 students are lagging academically due to restrictions on in-person learning. Relative to this assertion, Rado (2020) says, “School closure disrupts the delivery of in-person instruction and critical services to children and families, which has negative individual and societal ramifications” (p. 1). Therefore, there is a common understanding among education stakeholders that prolonged school closures negatively affect students’ achievement levels. Indeed, as highlighted in figure 1 below, worsening grade scores are associated with school absenteeism.

Worsening performance associated with school absenteeism
Figure 1. Worsening performance associated with school absenteeism (Source: Garcia & Weiss, 2020).

Reports indicate that the current global health crisis could significantly widen achievement gaps among different cohorts of students in Florida because those from minority populations, such as African-Americans and Hispanics, are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (Florida Department of Education, 2020a).

At the onset of the pandemic, the state of Florida accounted for about 1,940 cases of COVID-19 cases, which were linked to its education sector (Brown, 2020). The central Florida region was the most affected place with about three schools shutdown in 2020 due to rising cases of infection and the lack of substitute teachers to replace those who have tested positive for the virus. Today, in Miami Dade County, about 100 cases of Coronavirus infections are reported weekly having affected K12 schools (Brown, 2020). These rising cases of infection show that students, education staff, and parents are impacted by the pandemic.

If left unchecked, education inequality could exacerbate in Florida because some groups of students will adjust to the new learning environment, while others struggle to do so. Furthermore, health fears among students, workers, and education staff may significantly impede the quality of learning due to poor motivation and poor adaptability to the new learning environment (Florida Health, 2020). This situation may cause prolonged uncertainty in the learning environment, thereby worsening the quality of education for K-12 learners. This policy paper outlines recommendations that the State of Florida could do to make sure That K-12 Students are not Left behind Academically

Review of Existing Policy Programs

The overall goal of policy evaluation is to assess whether they are achieving their intended goals, or not. This objective is consistent with the recommendations of Kraft and Furlong (2017), which suggests that policies are not made in a vacuum because there are significant social, political, and economic ramifications underlying their formation. Florida District’s school intervention plan has laid out specific policy plans to bridge achievement gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, under emergency order DOE ORDER NO. 2020-E0-07, K-12 schools are supposed to provide additional instructional time to students who are posting poor performance through supplementary summer and weekly programs (Florida Department of Education, 2020c). The aim of promoting this strategy is to compensate for lost instructional time.

K-12 schools in Miami-Dade County are also required to practice social distancing, sanitization, and wearing masks. Contact tracing is also being practiced to complement these measures and it is focused on identifying and assessing students and staff who are deemed to be at risk of contracting the virus (Florida Health, 2020). These individuals are supposed to be quarantined within the school environment or in a recognized health facility for at least 14 days from the day of the suspected infection. Depending on a school’s ability to identify cohorts of suspected cases, the contact tracing process may be confined within one classroom or involve the wider school context.

The goal is to prevent onward transmission because it is designed to break the chain of infection. So far, these policies have helped to minimize cases of new infection because, although the crisis persists, there have been relatively low cases of community transmission among students.

Since the onset of the pandemic, authorities and education stakeholders in Florida have also advocated for the adoption of virtual learning methods as a supplementary education platform to carry out learning. However, the use of online learning is reported to be ineffective in achieving the desired results because of poor adaptability to the new learning environment (Rado 2020). Overall, these policies are designed to encourage educational institutions to continue offering all education services, conduct progress monitoring and interventions, undertake charter school flexibility, adopt innovative learning modalities and carry on professional development activities (Florida Department of Education, 2020b). In this regard, they have been successful in “normalizing” learning to a degree.

Evaluative Criteria

Most policy decisions are evaluated based on a pre-determined set of criteria specific to the learning environment. For purposes of this report, the policy evaluation process is designed to appeal to K-12 students in Miami-Dade County. The following considerations should be considered for analysis.

  • Economic Efficiency: Policy decisions aimed at closing learning gaps in Florida need to be assessed based on their economic feasibility because different schools have varied levels of financial support requirements. In this context of analysis, the cost-effectiveness of implementing the policies needs to be understood because it is important to know how much it would cost to implement the proposed policies.
  • Equity: Equity is an important consideration in the implementation of education policies. It is primarily concerned with evaluating policies based on whether all students get an equal opportunity for success, or not (WATERFORD, 2019). Therefore, proposed policy guidelines on the management of COVID-19 in K-12 schools need to be assessed using equity as a basis of performance.
  • Technical Criteria: The technicality of implementing the education policies also needs to be reviewed to equip K-12 schools with the resources needed to realize their goals or objectives. For example, the implementation of online learning programs requires students to have adequate internet access and computers.
  • Political Feasibility: The political criteria of policy analysis is primarily concerned with the acceptability of proposed policy decisions to all interest groups. Given that the interests of various stakeholder groups, such as teachers, the government, students, and parents support K-12 education, new policy proposals need to secure their buy-in.

Policy Alternatives

Schools may consider developing targeted outreach programs for special groups of students based on the results of progress monitoring and review assessment results to bridge current learning gaps among different groups of students. Outreach interventions may be categorized according to students’ grade levels and learning modalities, as proposed by the Florida Department of Education (2020b). Education stakeholders should also be given room to formulate additional instructional programs for students who have transitioned out of the innovative learning model.

Authorities should also consider focusing on developing policy guidelines that educate, communicate and reinforce COVID-19 health safety guidelines among students to empower them to protect themselves from infection. The sick policies of both students and staff should also be re-examined and redesigned to allow more students and staff to stay at home whenever they fall ill. It is also important to involve parents in future policy formulation processes because their participation cannot be overlooked given that most students stay at home during the pandemic. As proposed by Parent Academy (2020), parents need to be taken through training programs to better equip them to manage the effects of the pandemic.

Additionally, regarding the low efficacy of online learning among K-12 students, schools need to make sure that these learners have uninterrupted internet access. At the same time, all students need to be provided with computers, which they can access all the time. Implementing these alternative policies should help schools better prepare their students for the new learning environment. Their effects may be evaluated based on the proposed data collection activities outlined below.

Proposed Data Collection Activities

Based on the policy alternatives outlined above, future studies should focus on collecting primary data to assess their impact through surveys and supplementary evidence obtained through an analysis of academic performance data. The surveys should be administered virtually to teachers from different K-12 schools in Miami-Dade County to give a status report on the effectiveness of proposed policies. Academic data should be collected as secondary research materials that would help to explain the findings obtained from the surveys. Both sets of data are critical to understanding policy effectiveness because the surveys would provide subjective data, while the academic performance reports will provide statistical support.

References

Brown, D. J. (2020). Nearly 3,000 more COVID-19 cases related to FL schools: At least 100 infections in each of eight counties. Web.

Florida Department of Education. (2020a). Reopening Florida’s Schools and the CARES ActWeb.

Florida Department of Education. (2020b). Spring 2021 education plan and assurances: Miami-Dade County public schools. Web.

Florida Department of Education. (2020c). Emergency order. Web.

Florida Health. (2020). Guidelines and reports: Responding to COVID-19 in schools. Web.

Garcia, E., & Weiss, E. (2020). COVID-19 and student performance, equity, and U.S. education policy. Web.

Kraft, M., & Furlong, S. (2017). Public policy: politics, analysis, and alternatives (6th ed.). London: CQ Press.

Parent Academy. (2020). School reopening. Web.

Rado D. (2020). Amid a public health crisis called COVID-19, our schoolchildren will be left behind. Web.

WATERFORD. (2019). Why understanding equity vs equality in school can help you create an inclusive classroom. Web.

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