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As students return to the classroom, addressing instructional time lost to COVID-19 may be one of educators’ greatest challenges this new school year. Although students have made a range of skill gains during the pandemic, state assessment data show declines in mastery of grade-level standards, especially for low-income students and students of color.
This issue has captured the attention of federal policymakers, as districts are required to spend 20 percent of the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) funds to help students catch up.
By facilitating strategies such as personalization and acceleration, technology has shown evidence as a potential tool to support students at risk of falling behind peers. However, research also shows that the simple adoption of a digital tool is insufficient for significantly impacting student outcomes. In recognition, a new guidance resource from the U.S. Department of Education recommends that states and districts think beyond tool adoption to address lost instructional time.
The guidance encourages states and districts to set standards for effective digital learning — pointing specifically to the ISTE Standards — and provide professional development for educators aligned to this vision for effective technology use. Specifically, the Department writes:
Technology can be an important tool for educators regularly administering formative assessments and adapting instructions based on the results. This is especially true when technology embeds formative assessment and enables authentic and enriching learning experiences. To avoid using technology in a way that emphasizes routine drills focused on repetition with lower levels of adult support, leaders should set standards for digital learning, and provide educators ample professional development on the effective use of technology.
Furthermore, the department’s guidance encourages the use of technology for innovative strategies such as independent learning, small-group approaches, remote tutoring and family engagement.
As ARP ESSER funds must be obligated for specific activities by September 30, 2024, states and districts will have to engage in strategic investments that lead to sustainable impact on student outcomes beyond the funding cut-off date. This new federal guidance recognizes that such efforts must involve both vision-setting and educator capacity building in parallel to supporting digital tool access.
Additional resources from various federal agencies to supports schools’ digital learning this year include:
- Emergency connectivity funds to support access to digital tools and internet connectivity
- Home internet access guidance for states and districts
- Safer Schools and Campuses Best Practices Clearinghouse
- COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students' Needs
Ji Soo Song is a senior policy advisor at ISTE. He leads research, analysis and communication of federal, state and local policy issues related to digital learning standards, educator credentialing systems and professional development funding streams.