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Investing in students to close the gap on pandemic learning loss

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Alberta’s government is providing up to $45 million in new funding to jump-start targeted supports for students who require extra help with literacy and numeracy after two school years of pandemic-impacted learning.

The targeted programming is based on feedback from superintendents from school divisions throughout the province on how to best support early learners.

Early research indicates literacy and numeracy are two key areas where some younger children are experiencing challenges as a result of the pandemic. Research also indicates that early intervention with struggling readers can help students catch up to grade level. Without intervention, those students could continue to struggle with reading throughout their school lives.

“We know that literacy and numeracy are critical for young students, and getting timely help at the start of the upcoming school year will ensure that all students are set up for future learning success. Alberta has worked hard to keep schools open through most of the pandemic, but we know that many children have still been set back in their learning. Today’s announcement reflects our real commitment to address that.”

Jason Kenney, Premier

“We know the COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented need among younger students and schools that intervene quickly are able to help struggling students catch up to grade level. And we recognize that literacy and numeracy are essential and the building blocks for future learning. This investment is to ensure that students who have experienced learning loss get the timely help they need so that no student is left behind.”

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education

School authorities will have flexibility to design programming to best meet local needs by offering small group sessions for up to 16 weeks for students in Grades 1 to 3 who are assessed as needing additional support.

“Additional funding to target foundational skills is welcomed and timely news as jurisdictions are planning to address learning supports arising from the pandemic.”

Bevan Daverne, president, College of Alberta School Superintendents

“This is welcome news. This new funding will support the hiring of additional teachers and make a difference for our young learners, many of whom faced interruptions to learning over the past year. At the beginning of the next school year, we will prioritize work to determine where students are in their learning and identify the next steps to best address student needs. This funding supports the plans we have in place and allows us to provide additional targeted literacy and math supports for students in those schools most impacted by the disruption of learning this year.”

Marilyn Dennis, board chair, Calgary Board of Education

“We are grateful for Alberta Education’s recent investment in our Grade 1 to 3 students. We know that some students are experiencing disruptions to their learning as well as delays in literacy and numeracy because of COVID-19. The $45 million in new funding will help Calgary Catholic, and other districts across the province, provide additional and targeted literacy and numeracy supports for these students in the fall.”

Mary Martin, board chair, Calgary Catholic School Division

“Our board is grateful for this new funding targeted to support the early learning needs of students next year. COVID has truly hindered the learning of our children. We feel that this announced support, to close the learning gap, will make a real difference in the futures of our students.”

John Lehners, board chair, Grande Prairie Public School Division

“I appreciate the government's investment in this important initiative to ensure student learning is prioritized coming out of the pandemic.”

Holly Bilton, board chair, Chinook's Edge School Division

In March, a voluntary program for schools was launched to assess the impact of the pandemic. It focuses on reading deficits among early learners.

An expert panel is also engaging with Albertans on the impacts of the pandemic on school-aged children. 

In addition, Alberta is committed to renewing the kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) curriculum with a focus on literacy and numeracy. The draft K-6 curriculum emphasizes literacy and numeracy across all grades to give students a strong base of essential knowledge for the future.

Quick facts

  • Research on reading levels by George Georgiou (professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta) found that, in fall 2020, some students in Grades 1 to 3 were reading about eight to 12 months behind grade level.
    • Schools that intervened quickly with struggling readers were able to help about 80 per cent of those students catch up to grade level.
    • Previous research indicates that if reading difficulties are not addressed by the end of Grade 3, 75 per cent of those students could continue to struggle with reading throughout their school lives.
  • Based on modelling and input from school authorities, it is anticipated that approximately an additional 15 per cent of students in Grades 1 to 3 will need literacy and numeracy support next school year, directly due to COVID-related learning disruptions.
  • This is around twice as many students requiring intensive support than school authorities would expect in a typical year.
    • It is also anticipated that, even among students who would experience literacy and numeracy challenges regardless of COVID-19, the degree of deficit may be greater and will require more interventions.
  • Funding will be available to school authorities through an application process to Alberta Education that identifies the number of eligible students based on teacher assessments.
    • Additional information on the application process will be available to school authorities in the coming weeks.
    • Students will be assessed after the completion of the up to 16-week program to measure improvements in literacy and numeracy.
  • While it will not be known for certain until assessments take place in September and applications are received, up to 50,000 students may benefit from this additional programming.

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Hetty Roessingh,

16 weeks might be enough to 'drill' phonemic awareness and phonics into kids (the predictors of learning to DECODE, grades 1 - 2), but LONG term READING achievement depends most significantly on VOCABULARY knowledge (the 'grade 4 slump') -- to 'read' you have to know the meanings of the words on the page, not just simply decode them (e.g. con-ta-min-ate). The vocabulary gap takes sustained support and TIME to close. In published work I did with young kids, the early literacy gap (decoding) could indeed be closed by around grade 2, but the vocabulary/language gap did not close even by grade 6. This explains why our PATs looked pretty good in Gr. 3, but took a 'hit' by Gr. 6. By Gr. 12 the gap simply widens. Please push hard for sustained funding for good PD for teachers, smaller class sizes for little kids, maybe some dedicated 'pull out' and small group tutorial help. I ran a tutoring group for about 10 years for 4 kids who started young and stuck it through until graduation (every Monday night for 2 hours) ... they were smart, curious, eager to learn and do well at school (spoke Punjabi at home). And they did, but Gr 4, 6, 9 and 12 were key years for having a threshold of VOCABULARY in place to transition from learning to read to reading to learn (Gr. 4); develop independent reading skills (Gr. 6) to bootstrap their own way a bit more to grow vocabulary; shift to more literary uses of language (Gr. 9), and finally in Gr. 12 to have in place the level of academic literacy for success in university. PLEASE do not think of only quick fixes, focusing too much on narrow 'core' skills that wash out by Gr. 4. $45 million is a lot of money to waste ... I pay taxes, too, and do not think this is a great use of my tax dollars. I would love to hear from you! Many thanks, Hetty Roessingh, Professor, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary