Last week, the Education Department released a report revealing the largest year-over-year decline in scores in every state. The numbers exposed a bleak reality: only 26% of eighth graders and 36% of fourth graders are proficient in math (down from 34% and 41% in 2019, respectively). This decline has occurred despite the federal government making the largest single investment in American schools — $123 billion, or about $2,400 per student — to help students catch up after the pandemic.
Americans are trying to make sense of any trends in the report, but nothing is neatly adding up. During the pandemic, school closings did not necessarily correlate to bad test scores. For example, California, which closed schools longer, and Florida, which was known for staying open, both declined slightly less in math scores than the national average. Texas, which was among the soonest to reopen, saw math scores plumet.
There are some telling metrics that divulge some significant gaps in American math education. In fourth grade, students in the bottom 25th percentile lost more ground in math compared with students at the top of their class, leaving the low-performing students further behind. Moreover, only half of fourth graders who were low performing in math said they had access to a computer at times during the 2020-21 school year compared with high-performing students.
Some have responded to the report insisting that the $123 billion investment isn’t enough to close the gap, yet, just under 5% of the investment was spent as of Jan. 31, 2022 — some 10 months after funds were disbursed. “Many districts do not have a concerted plan for math,” said Marguerite Roza, the director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, who is tracking pandemic relief spending. Between district leaders’ demands, the time it takes to vet proposals, issue contracts, and hire and onboard teachers and counselors who then draw down salaries, the delay in spending is not surprising. Although, the longer spending is delayed, the larger the math gap will become. Not to mention, the funds expire in September of 2024.
As school districts start spending the funds in a variety of ways, only time will tell which solutions work, and which do not. The growing knowledge gaps, lack of equal access to technology, teacher burnout, and absence of any proven-effective solution are daunting and will continue to catch up to students. ELearning platforms, like Amplifire, provide a uniquely intersecting solution for these nuanced issues. According to a 2021 study that analyzed data from more than 2,500 K-12 students using curriculum-based online learning software both before and during the pandemic shutdown found that students’ performance actually increased during the shutdown. While there is no unified plan to attack the U.S.’s K-12 math problem, online learning stands out as one solution that is proven to work, despite speculation.
Closing the math gap with online learning
During the pandemic, schools closed, then reopened, and closed again, and grappled with opening and closing. They navigated hybrid solutions, software, technology access, learning curves, and other obstacles. As hybrid learning gained momentum even before the pandemic, it became a necessity after 2020.
The silver lining of needing a remote solution is gaining the infrastructure for a hybrid or blended learning solution, which makes learning much more flexible for both teachers and students, thus increasing the amount of learning that can be achieved in variable circumstances. For example, if students or teachers get sick, learning can continue uninterrupted through an online platform. Schools can offer more choice, so students don’t fall behind.
Personalized learning experience
What the Nation’s Report Card shared is that the bottom 25th percentile fell even more behind than the top students. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all solution simply will not work. With staffing shortages, schools struggle to offer personalized learning for every single student. But Amplifire’s adaptive platform does just that. People in general have vary levels of base knowledge. Amplifire’s adaptive learning algorithm tailors learning to students’ individual knowledge gaps, uncertainties, and misinformation, making sure no one falls behind and everyone achieves mastery.
From the adaptive learning algorithm, Amplifire collects data based on numerous student interactions throughout the learning process. This data provides learner analytics to teachers, who gain a window into their students’ minds. As the math gap widens, it makes teachers’ jobs more difficult as they strive to ensure their students get the help they need to be proficient. Amplifire’s learner analytics offer detailed remediation plans so teachers can offer personalized coaching to struggling students. For schools with staffing shortages or for teachers experiencing burnout, these analytics do more of the technical heavy lifting so teachers can do what they do best: teach!
Proof of learning
Data not only helps inform instruction, but it also provides evidence of learning. At a time when educators and school districts are under a microscope, having rich data to show how learners have mastered material proves progress has been made. For many school districts, the path to raising math scores is ambiguous; with eLearning, progress is clear and trackable. Learner data can also inform education strategy, as improving scores after such a sharp decline will take longer than one year.
While the education funds spending deadline will come and go, an upfront investment in technology and training is a lasting solution that will support staff as they continue to tirelessly serve students — and an investment that has already happened for many schools that relied on hybrid and remote instruction throughout the pandemic. While math scores have declined, there is no evidence to suggest that closures or early reopenings were the culprit, so why not lean into the future of learning without temporary solutions?
Moreover, Amplifire’s eLearning platform is built on brain science discoveries, which have been shown to help people learn faster and retain more information. Just as the platform offers learner analytics to inform instruction and teaching strategy, it also employs cognitive science-backed learning principles that are proven to foster better learning and recall. School districts can be sure they’re using every possible (and scientifically proven-effective) method to get students back up to speed and ahead of the game with stronger recall than traditional learning settings.