Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn, seated right, observes a lesson in a classroom at Trousdale Elementary.

Trousdale County Schools’ efforts at reducing learning loss were on display last week for Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education.

Commissioner Penny Schwinn visited Trousdale Elementary on Friday, Sept. 25 and observed lessons in various classrooms, along with Sen. Ferrell Haile and Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver.

Last week, the state’s Department of Education released estimated data regarding learning loss for Tennessee students resulting from COVID-19 school closures through the summer months. Preliminary data projected an estimated 50% decrease in proficiency rates in third-grade reading and a projected 65% decrease in proficiency in math. The state’s projections were that learning loss from March school closures through the summer is expected to be 2.5 times that of a normal summer rate.

“We know that increased time away from school has negative implications for students, which is compounded during extended building closures,” Schwinn said in a press release. “The department is focused on ensuring we provide essential services and resources to mitigate learning loss and keep students on a path to success this new school year.”

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield said Trousdale County had worked hard to mitigate the effects on students of missing roughly seven weeks of classes during the spring after the pandemic hit.

Satterfield also questioned the state’s numbers, saying they were based on assessments from seven districts out of over 140 statewide.

“Most of the school districts are asking, ‘Where did you even come up with these data points?’ ” Satterfield told The Vidette. “Evidently they’ve got this data set from seven districts and predicted what learning loss might look like when we returned to school.”

Satterfield said Trousdale’s closure was shorter than a number of districts and also that school started on time here.

“We started on time this year, which I hope we had more learning in Trousdale than a majority of the districts which started later,” he said. “Hopefully that closes the gap on learning loss.”

Satterfield also touted efforts at the elementary school during Schwinn’s visit, including regular assessments and staying with grade-level standards rather than relying on remedial work.

“We are staying with our grade-level curriculum. We have resisted the temptation to water our curriculum down or to start the year doing less than grade-level work,” he said. “We’re trying to fill in the gaps while we’re also teaching at grade level.”

“Even with all the challenges, being able to bring kids back into school with a quality education is not something we’re seeing across the country,” Schwinn said during her visit to Trousdale Elementary. “It is really impressive and very energizing to see what’s possible.”

The work at the elementary school includes two extra foundational lessons (math, reading) per day, as well as foundational lessons in the afterschool program.

“We’re not doing homework with kids; we’ve got a reading program and a math program,” Satterfield said. “It gives those students an extra opportunity to address learning loss after school hours.”

Having an estimated 50% of students take part in optional online learning during the spring closure is another factor in lowering the learning gap in Trousdale County, Satterfield added.

While the school system has no current data to estimate the effects of learning loss at a local level, Satterfield did say based on reports he had received thus far the gap seemed to be lower than originally thought.

“Generally our learning loss in those early grades (1-3) is not what one might have anticipated. However, we can tell that our students are not where they would have been had we not had the COVID closure.”

Satterfield said he hoped to see additional resources for afterschool and summer school options once the pandemic ends.

Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on the economics of education states that each additional year of schooling increases life income by an average of 7.5-10%. Further, a loss of one-third of a year in effective learning for just the students affected by the closures of early 2020 will, by historical data, lower a country’s GDP by an average of 1.5% over the remainder of the century.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or Contributing: Staff reports

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