Report: Kentucky makes progress on post-pandemic education gaps

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(The Center Square) – While progress is still needed to bring students back to grade levels, Kentucky is a notable exception in K-12 pandemic learning losses, according to a recent report.

According to the Education Recovery Scorecard, a collaborative effort between Stanford and Harvard universities, Kentucky is one of few states where the rate of recovery has been faster in high poverty districts. In counties like Pike, Laurel and Hopkins, student learning rates improved by 40% or more of a grade equivalent in one year alone.

However, disparities are still prevalent. Learning losses as a whole were much larger in high poverty districts, leaving a larger gap to fill for counties like Pike, Laurel and Hopkins, where they remain more than half a grade behind their 2019 math scores.

Between 2019 and 2022, student achievement in Kentucky fell behind by 67% of a grade level in math and 37% of a grade level in reading. On average, Kentucky students have made up for a quarter of the achievement loss in math, and two-thirds of the achievement loss in reading.

As educators continue to debate solutions for the achievement gap, they can look toward Kentucky’s remaining $639 million in federal pandemic education aid. From 2020 to 2023, the state received more than $3.2 billion in recovery funding, with 20% still remaining for use.

“No one wants to leave poor kids footing the bill,” said Thomas Kane, faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard and one of the study’s co-authors. “With federal relief dollars drying up, state leaders must ensure the remaining dollars expand learning opportunities in Summer 2024 and through tutoring and after-school contracts next year.”

In total, K-12 schools received $190 billion in federal aid during the pandemic, with the majority targeted at lower-income districts. Yet, as of January, about $51 billion of that aid is still available for use before September.

Districts can allot these funds toward summer or after school programming, tutors or lowering absence rates.

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