Surveys and test results have recorded a sizeable amount of learning interruption in schools caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

As New Jersey educators, advocates and officials continue to try to gauge how much of an impact the health emergency has had on students, efforts are underway during this somewhat-normal school year to get things back on track.

"We have seen incremental progress in our assessments," Tony Trongone, superintendent of Millville Public Schools, told a panel of New Jersey legislators.

Following a 20% jump in the number of students falling behind in language arts, and a 15% increase in the number of students needing intensive support in math, the district revamped its elementary school schedule to include a daily 40-minute period during which no new instruction takes place, Trongone said.

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And, using federal dollars, the district brought on more teachers, so that each student can receive more individual attention. Class sizes in the K-2 range, for example, went from a maximum of 22 to 25, to a max of 15.

The Assembly Education Committee invited guests to speak on Monday about the issue of learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 emergency.

"It's very hard to be so targeted as to where the support needs to be," said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, chair of the committee.

A statewide assessment administered in fall 2021 recorded "disturbing" results related to student achievement in language arts and mathematics.

"Last year represented a first step towards what will be a long recovery period," said Rachel Goldberg, superintendent of Springfield Public Schools.

Goldberg noted that some students were able to maintain academic progress during a shaky period of remote learning or hybrid instruction, but others experienced significant hardships.

"I hope we make this narrative about recovery, not only academic but also the emotional recovery of our families and students," Goldberg said. "Let's not be sucked into a narrative about failure, but rather, what schools need to support our students."

One obstacle to accelerated learning is finding qualified teachers to do the work, according to a number of people who testified before the Assembly panel.

"The reality is that the talent market is barren right now, especially in our urban districts," said Dowayne Davis, CEO of Philip's Academy Charter School of Paterson.

Prior to the pandemic, two-thirds of the charter school's students were at or above grade level in reading. When students returned to in-person teaching, two-thirds required "tier 2 interventions" in reading, Davis said.

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