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Pandemic-era learning loss greeted by the optimism of a new year

Photo by CDC / Unsplash

A closer look at what's driving change at Redlands Unified this year

REDLANDS, Calif. – The new school year is in full swing at Redlands Unified School District. Over the last few weeks, students, teachers, and families have settled in with new faces and renewed determination for academic excellence.

At the start of his first year as head of Redlands schools, Superintendent Juan Cabral took time to meet with parents and explain his goals for the year in a welcome video posted online. Meanwhile, on social media, Redlands Unified has been introducing new administrators placed at schools throughout the district.

How we got here: These changes come on the heels of a sharp drop in state standardized test scores released last fall. Redlands Unified is a clear example of what is seen state-wide. The percentage of Redlands students meeting state English language standards dipped 5 percentage points to 52%, and the percentage meeting math standards plummeted 9 percentage points to 35%.

A closer look: Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021/2022 school year was the first time students took standardized tests since 2019. Overall, test scores dropped across the district. However, low-income students saw less of a decline but still lag behind their peers. The English language arts scores for low-income students dropped 3% compared to 5% for all students. But it's not enough to bridge the gap, with only 43% of low-income students meeting or exceeding state standards, compared to 70% of all students.

Math scores saw a similar spread. Low-income students scores dropped slightly less than all students, falling 6 points, compared to an 8-point drop for all other students. Even then, only a quarter of low-income students met standards.

The trend of a lower drop among low-income students also appeared in statewide test scores.

Zoom out: Pandemic-provoked learning loss is not just a Redlands problem. Schools across the state reported lower test scores during the 2021/22 school year. The "Nation's Report Card" also saw a decline in test scores among a sampling of students nationwide in 2022. In fact, Redlands remains above state-wide scores of 47% for ELA and 33% for Math.

See how your school performed  

We created an interactive graph to compare test scores between 2019 and 2022. Data is broken down by economic status.

Source: Source: California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. Created by Michael Miranda

View more details results on state dashboard

A new set of test scores for the 2022/23 school year is expected this fall.

Facing the challenge

The drop in test scores was not directly addressed in the superintendent's message to families. Instead, he pointed to the positive achievement of Redlands Unified compared to other schools in San Bernardino County. He also highlighted the success achieved by advanced placement high school students.

"Our kids continue to score at the top of the county in State ELA and Mathematics test scores. Our high school students in advanced placement courses have scored a 69% pass rate in all AP exams taken, one of the highest in District history," said Carbal.

However, student achievement is the underlying focus of his ambitious plans for the upcoming school year. In the video, he emphasized strong collaboration between teachers and administrators and forging trust with parents and students. Transparency and communication were also named as pivotal aspects of Cabral's plans. Underpinning everything is elevating student achievement and staff success.

Carbel is not alone in his ambition to improve academic outcomes. The need to return to the classroom following the pandemic triggered a flood of state funding that many schools will tap into this year.

A post-covid investment in education

In 2021, Governor Newsom and the California Legislature passed a law that allocated an additional $6.6 billion towards education, with more than $4.5 billion dedicated to the side-wide Expanded Learning Opportunities Programs (ELO-P).

What is ELO-P:  These funds can be used to supplement the regular school day through a range of after-school, before-school, summer, and other enrichment programs. Schools can use the money to hire literacy coaches, tutors, school counselors, or additional teachers and aids to assist students throughout the school day and during after-school programs.

Why it matters: Redlands Unified nearly tripled its ELO-P fund in 2022 with an entitlement of $12.6 million, up from $4.5 million in 2021. This trickles down to about $1200/per student in grades K-6.

E-LOP Expands 2023/24: Once only available at a handful of schools in Redlands, extended learning programs are now being run at 12 schools in the district, including Byan Mawr, Crafton, Franklin, Kingsbury, Lugonia, McKinley, Mission, Mentone, Victoria, Clement, Cope, and Moore. These programs are open to all students, free of cost while the funding lasts.

The district said it intends to make the program available to all schools eventually.

It is important to note this funding is awarded based on attendance for kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

Chronic absenteeism at Redlands Unified has worsened following the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the California School Dashboard, about 1 in 10 students were absent for more than 10% of the school year. By 2022, that number doubled, with nearly a quarter (24%) of students categorized as chronically absent from school.

Carbal says success this school year will require a partnership between students, teachers, parents, and the community. He's counting on regular school participation to unlock students' full academic and social growth potential.

"Consistent attendance not only enhances academic achievement but also fosters critical social interactions and aids in the development of important life skills," Carbal told families.

It's also an essential key to continued funding for education enrichment, which educators are hopeful will reflect in the upcoming test scores.