Just how much learning suffered during the pandemic is presented in stark terms in the Florida Department of Education’s application to receive $2.3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds that was submitted this week.
The federal government had sent a letter earlier this week asking why DOE had missed the deadlines for the application for American Rescue Plan funds. A DOE spokesman said that the state had informed the federal government in May that it could not meet the deadline because of Florida’s rules. Still, two days after a federal official’s reminder, the state submitted a 432-page application, detailing how other federal COVID-19 relief for schools had been spent and how the state plans to spend the next chunk of money. Florida was the last state to apply for remaining federal pandemic recovery funds from the DOE.
Even if the application was late — originally due June 7 — Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran highlighted Florida’s speed in reopening schools in a letter to the U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
“As Florida has been a national leader in offering in-person instruction five days a week, we were able to assess 94% of our students in person for statewide, standardized assessment in Spring 2021,” Corcoran wrote.
The work ahead is laid out in the report.
“The data reinforces the need to accelerate learning in reading and math in order to close gaps negatively impacted by the pandemic,” the application’s report says.
Among the priorities listed in the report: A new Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative, SAT/ACT test-taking at no cost to high school juniors again in 2022, professional development for reading coaches and more support for students who are simultaneously enrolled in high school and college for computer science/IT fields.
Charts in the report show that there is work to be done to counteract what’s been called the “COVID-19 slide” that happened while most students were learning at home. The charts show that Florida’s Black and low-income students, as well as those with disabilities, suffered the worst decreases in achievement.
Comparing assessment scores from 2019 to 2021, the most severe drops in scores happened in algebra and geometry in the upper grades and mathematics for third- to eighth grade students.
Among low-income families, the majority are not scoring at grade level for language arts, math, algebra or geometry. Before the pandemic, at least 50% or more of students from low-income families were making the grade in math and algebra. This year, just 36% of low-income students scored at grade level or better for algebra. That’s a 15% from 2019. In geometry, 33% of the students scored at grade level, a 13% drop from 2019.
For mathematics for third- through eighth grade students from low-income families, 39% scored at grade level, a 12% drop from 2019.
Further data shows that the gaps between Black and white students widened during the pandemic when comparing the percentage scoring at grade level or better.
The situation could be worse, according to the application.
“While Florida’s progress monitoring data does reflect learning loss, it has demonstrated less impact in reading and math in comparison to any other states based on a number of reports,” the application says.