October 6, 2022


School districts armed with hundreds of billions of dollars in federal recovery aid are eyeing whether challenging kids with accelerated grade-level work is more effective at catching them up than remedial strategies.

Researchers found that when a student is consistently accelerated, they complete twice the amount of grade-level lessons and struggle less in their math learning.

When a student was remediated, the data shows, he or she had a 44% likelihood of struggling on the next grade-level lessons, whereas when a student experienced learning acceleration, he or she only had a 36% likelihood of struggling on the next grade-level lesson. In other words, students struggled 17% less in math with learning acceleration than remediation.

Notably, 9% of students enrolled in schools serving primarily white students were assigned remediation content in response to struggle compared to 15% of students enrolled in schools serving primarily Black and Latino students. In addition, 8% of students enrolled in schools serving primarily students from high-income backgrounds were assigned remediation compared to 15% of those from low-income backgrounds.

[ READ: Democrats Cede ‘Party of Education’ Label to GOP: Poll ]
Alternately, when a struggling student in a majority Black or Latino school was assigned learning acceleration, they struggled 19% less than when they were remediated.

“The research can’t really tell us why particular teachers are making certain intervention decisions,” McRae says.

“But in thinking about the bigger picture for why this matters,” he says, “so many students have fallen behind during years of pandemic disruptions, and students whose families are experiencing poverty, students who are Black and Latino have fallen even more behind. We need practical and scalable options to lift them up and move them forward.”

The findings come in the wake of new data from the federal government that shows that remedial instruction was the most common strategy deployed by public schools in trying to support learning recovery. Seventy-two percent of schools deployed remedial learning during the 2021-22 school year, according to the latest data collection from the National Center for Education Statistics. A little more than half, 56%, used tutoring, which is more aligned with accelerated learning.

Education policy and finance experts say it’s nearly impossible to break down at a granular level how much money districts and states are spending from their federal pandemic aid on acceleration versus remediation to help students recover – a decision that’s often determined by individual educators on a day-to-day basis.

Researchers at FutureEd, an education nonprofit housed at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, are tracking how the largest 5,000 school districts in the country are spending their aid. They found that 2,970 districts are spending on academic staff, including reading and math specialists, 1,257 are spending on tutoring and 748 on math and English coaching. But it’s unclear as to how they plan to use those extra resources, and whether, for example, interventionists and tutors are using acceleration or remedial strategies.

More troubling – though perhaps not surprising, given what research has long shown about disproportionate access to high-quality teachers, small class sizes, funding and more – is the disproportionate access to accelerated learning among students of color and those from low-income families.

[ READ: House Democrats Aim to Make Child Nutrition Waivers Permanent ]
“The findings are really concerning because what we are seeing in the study is really like a layer upon a layer upon a layer,” says Allison Socol, vice president of P-12 policy, research and practice at The Education Trust, a Washington think tank that tries to close achievement gaps that disproportionately impact students of color and students from low-income families. “We have lots of data and evidence to know that students of color and those from low-income backgrounds have been underserved in our education system for a long time.”

Throughout the pandemic, data has piled up showing that students from high-poverty school districts are most often remediated with review material that’s below their grade level, from the moment COVID-19 first forced school districts to close in March 2020 all the way until the end of the last school year.

“Remediation just isn’t effective and it’s particularly detrimental for students of color,” Socol says. “It’s very eye opening. And for me, it’s a real call to action to think differently about how we are addressing students’ unfinished learning, particularly students who have been underserved for a long time.”

Socol and other researchers at The Education Trust are in the process of compiling a list of school districts that are using accelerated learning to get students back on track.

Among some of the most aggressive employers of the strategy are Nashville, Tennessee, which launched the “Accelerated Scholars Program,” a targeted intensive tutoring program that provides students with 30 minutes of tutoring, three days a week. Students are paired with the same tutor for the duration of the program and all tutors are trained in accelerated learning. Guilford County Public Schools in North Carolina is using $10 million of its pandemic relief dollars to establish a similar program, with 500 tutors working with 4,000 students. And Massachusetts adopted a statewide strategy that it’s calling the “Acceleration Roadmap,” which is meant to help district leaders, principals and teachers focus on grade-level work to help students recover.

“The findings are really, really powerful,” Socol says. “There’s really no question about what works, it’s about shifting policies and practices to reflect it.”

Researchers found that when a student is consistently accelerated, they complete twice the amount of grade-level lessons and struggle less in their math learning.

When a student was remediated, the data shows, he or she had a 44% likelihood of struggling on the next grade-level lessons, whereas when a student experienced learning acceleration, he or she only had a 36% likelihood of struggling on the next grade-level lesson. In other words, students struggled 17% less in math with learning acceleration than remediation.

Notably, 9% of students enrolled in schools serving primarily white students were assigned remediation content in response to struggle compared to 15% of students enrolled in schools serving primarily Black and Latino students. In addition, 8% of students enrolled in schools serving primarily students from high-income backgrounds were assigned remediation compared to 15% of those from low-income backgrounds.

[ READ: Democrats Cede ‘Party of Education’ Label to GOP: Poll ]
Alternately, when a struggling student in a majority Black or Latino school was assigned learning acceleration, they struggled 19% less than when they were remediated.

“The research can’t really tell us why particular teachers are making certain intervention decisions,” McRae says.

“But in thinking about the bigger picture for why this matters,” he says, “so many students have fallen behind during years of pandemic disruptions, and students whose families are experiencing poverty, students who are Black and Latino have fallen even more behind. We need practical and scalable options to lift them up and move them forward.”

The findings come in the wake of new data from the federal government that shows that remedial instruction was the most common strategy deployed by public schools in trying to support learning recovery. Seventy-two percent of schools deployed remedial learning during the 2021-22 school year, according to the latest data collection from the National Center for Education Statistics. A little more than half, 56%, used tutoring, which is more aligned with accelerated learning.

Education policy and finance experts say it’s nearly impossible to break down at a granular level how much money districts and states are spending from their federal pandemic aid on acceleration versus remediation to help students recover – a decision that’s often determined by individual educators on a day-to-day basis.

Researchers at FutureEd, an education nonprofit housed at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, are tracking how the largest 5,000 school districts in the country are spending their aid. They found that 2,970 districts are spending on academic staff, including reading and math specialists, 1,257 are spending on tutoring and 748 on math and English coaching. But it’s unclear as to how they plan to use those extra resources, and whether, for example, interventionists and tutors are using acceleration or remedial strategies.

More troubling – though perhaps not surprising, given what research has long shown about disproportionate access to high-quality teachers, small class sizes, funding and more – is the disproportionate access to accelerated learning among students of color and those from low-income families.

[ READ: House Democrats Aim to Make Child Nutrition Waivers Permanent ]
“The findings are really concerning because what we are seeing in the study is really like a layer upon a layer upon a layer,” says Allison Socol, vice president of P-12 policy, research and practice at The Education Trust, a Washington think tank that tries to close achievement gaps that disproportionately impact students of color and students from low-income families. “We have lots of data and evidence to know that students of color and those from low-income backgrounds have been underserved in our education system for a long time.”

Throughout the pandemic, data has piled up showing that students from high-poverty school districts are most often remediated with review material that’s below their grade level, from the moment COVID-19 first forced school districts to close in March 2020 all the way until the end of the last school year.

“Remediation just isn’t effective and it’s particularly detrimental for students of color,” Socol says. “It’s very eye opening. And for me, it’s a real call to action to think differently about how we are addressing students’ unfinished learning, particularly students who have been underserved for a long time.”

Socol and other researchers at The Education Trust are in the process of compiling a list of school districts that are using accelerated learning to get students back on track.

Among some of the most aggressive employers of the strategy are Nashville, Tennessee, which launched the “Accelerated Scholars Program,” a targeted intensive tutoring program that provides students with 30 minutes of tutoring, three days a week. Students are paired with the same tutor for the duration of the program and all tutors are trained in accelerated learning. Guilford County Public Schools in North Carolina is using $10 million of its pandemic relief dollars to establish a similar program, with 500 tutors working with 4,000 students. And Massachusetts adopted a statewide strategy that it’s calling the “Acceleration Roadmap,” which is meant to help district leaders, principals and teachers focus on grade-level work to help students recover.

“The findings are really, really powerful,” Socol says. “There’s really no question about what works, it’s about shifting policies and practices to reflect it.”

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