Lincoln Public Schools Fight Student Learning Loss

Aug. 24, 2021, 6:45 a.m. ·

Teacher stands in front of the classroom, lecturing students, while wearing a mask. Students, some in masks look at her. The classroom is decorated with numbers, clocks, flags and more.
In Scott Middle School in Lincoln, eighth grade math teacher Alicia Davis asks her students to share their best tip for getting their homework done on time. (Photo by Melissa Rosales, Nebraska Public Media News)

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In December, Congress passed a second relief bill to help students catch up from pandemic learning losses in schools all across the country. Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) is deciding what they’ll do with their $63 million in funding for next school year.

Scott Middle School eighth grade math teacher Alicia Davis hopes her students feel valued and heard this school year, regardless if they learned in-person or remotely during the pandemic.

"We had students that struggled in a remote environment or struggled because they had big life things happening," she said. 'They might have had a parent that lost a job, they might have had an inability to get to school, they might have had people that were sick from COVID-19. And so life happens, and not everyone may be learned in the same way."

Lincoln Public Schools wants to help their students with learning loss. They’re working on a plan to make up for lost time like adding an interventionist teacher in each school building. Associate Superintendent for Instruction Matt Larson said the interventionist would teach some students one-on-one. They would also help teachers with their lesson plans.

"We hope we can use these funds to ensure that each and every student is on grade level or above in the Lincoln Public Schools. That each and every student graduates on time, college career and civic ready," he said.

National standardized tests, like MAP Growth, show Lincoln elementary and middle school students’ math scores dropped significantly in 2020 compared to fall 2019. Plus, more than 10% of students failed two or more classes in fall 2020, and most of them were remote students.

"Last year, students that I had that never failed before were failing, especially when they were Zoom students," said Deb Ramussen, president of the Lincoln Education Association.

Last year, she was a guidance counselor at Goodrich Middle School. Ramussen believes students do better when they're in school with a teacher. There’s a learning loss because students can’t interact in real time. She said most of the time, remote students didn’t have their cameras on during Zoom classes, so they weren’t that engaged in learning.

"Almost half of my students sometimes were on Zoom, I saw their grades just dipping. I saw their enthusiasm for actually being in school dipping," she said. "So I know that group had learning loss, and that they're freshmen at the high school level now."

Layla Riley is a junior in Lincoln Southeast High School. She spent her school year half in person and half online. She said it was really difficult when she had to learn remotely.

"It was so easy to become distracted, or have to do other things when at home," she said. "Like for math, especially, I felt like I could have done better if I would have been in-person."

Riley said her friend’s GPA dropped from a 4.0 to a 3.6 from being on Zoom full time.

Eighth grade math teacher Alicia Davis said while there is learning loss in the district, she doesn’t want her students to be defined by a label.

"Do I want a student coming back to school this year, feeling that they are behind? No," Davis said. "My fear would be that a student feels that way. And then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then the equity gaps that we have just get exasperated."

That’s why Matt Larson said the district plans to help students, but not by extending the school day, something that had been considered. Instead, they’ll offer optional after-school instruction, more summer school for all grade levels, and increase the number of guidance counselors in each school.

"We believe the best thing we can do is to provide the academic and social emotional supports that students need so that they can become successful, feel that success, and realize that they can get back on grade level and be successful," Larson said.

Junior Layla Riley said she’s glad LPS is helping students who may have been disadvantaged by remote learning during the pandemic, but she’s most excited about increasing mental health awareness. She said isolation on top of dropping grades and an overwhelming amount of schoolwork can be even more difficult to deal with.

"This is very important, and I think students need this now more than ever," she said.

The first draft of the district’s plan for the $63 million will be published on its website September 1. Larson encourages the public to share their thoughts, until the district submits a final draft to the state department of education September 15.