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Students could return in the fall with a learning loss of 30 percent in reading and more than 50 percent in math as a result of the COVID-19-related school closures — nearly a full year behind in math for some grades, according to a Northwest Evaluation Association study.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has created a Task Force for Learning Acceleration to help recover learning loss.

The task force — consisting of education experts across the state — will provide advice and recommendations to DESE in three key areas: assessment of learning loss, acceleration of learning and reaching all students, according to DESE.

The "learning loss" work group will discuss instructional progress, district differences in pacing, systemic sources of data and formative assessment tools.

The "acceleration of learning" work group will discuss lessons learned and evidence-based strategies for learning acceleration.

The "reaching all students" work group will discuss responses to the social-emotional needs of students and educators, equity and meeting the needs of vulnerable students, such as low-income students, students in primary grades, students with individual education plans and English language learners.

The task force met May 26 and June 3, and it will meet again today and June 17. The work groups will report their considerations and recommendations June 24, and DESE staff will then review these recommendations.

On July 1, DESE will inform school districts of the plan to implement the recommendations. On Aug. 12, formative assessments for determining learning loss will be available so schools can incorporate the ideas for the 2020-21 school year, according to DESE.

The task force determined that to recover learning loss, educators should further differentiate instruction, support students who are behind, focus on small progressions and big ideas, and integrate multiple content areas if possible, according to DESE.

Students with better internet access and devices, higher levels of parental education, more time for parental engagement, and better access to books and materials will benefit more from distance learning, and learning opportunities are strongly determined by quality education in younger children, according to the Center for Global Development.

While many early learning buildings have closed, staff have been conducting virtual meetings with families, and educators have collaborated with colleagues in child care and preschool settings to find larger spaces and extra staff to ensure social distancing, said Jo Anne Ralston, DESE coordinator of early learning.

DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said improving early childhood education is one of DESE's primary goals, and it is likely that the youngest learners will be the most significantly impacted by the learning loss.

"They will not be able to make up those formative years," she said. "We can't put those formative years on hold."

For more information, visit the "Task Force for Learning Acceleration" tab under the "DESE COVID-19 Updates" page at dese.mo.gov.

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