Grade 1 students lose weeks of learning supports with funding delay

‘We could have made so much more of an impact if we could have at least given these students 12 weeks, but that is unlikely now’

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Grade 1 students who suffered learning losses during the pandemic have lost out on weeks of intervention supports due to provincial funding delays.

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After a one-time $45-million provincial grant last fall, the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District hired nearly 200 teachers combined to work with students in grades 2 and 3 to offset pandemic learning losses.

At the same time, Grade 1 students were assessed in January with expectations that funding for their intervention would arrive by mid-February.

But the province has confirmed funding for those students will not arrive until the end of March, leaving educators frustrated and the province’s youngest at-risk students shortchanged.

“If this money doesn’t come until the end of the month, by the time we hire teachers and get them into schools and classrooms the Grade 1s are looking at maybe getting only five to six weeks of intervention,” said Helmut Kaiser, director of learning services for CCSD.

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“We could have made so much more of an impact if we could have at least given these students 12 weeks, but that is unlikely now,” Kaiser added, saying the provincial requirement of assessment results from the interventions by June 1 also shortens the time frame.

“Every day that has been lost is a day of intervention that these young students could have had.”

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Alberta students have been forced to learn from home a number of times, moving back and forth from classroom learning to online learning because of major outbreaks, illnesses and school closures.

Many of the youngest students who don’t have the ability to learn as well from a computer screen have suffered significant learning losses.

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Kaiser estimates more than 30 per cent of students in grades 1 to 3 have fallen behind, scoring less than the 25th percentile for numeracy and literacy.

But students in grades 2 and 3 — each receiving nearly $500 in funding for interventions — have benefited greatly, Kaiser said.

Interventions involved temporary teachers taking small groups outside of the regular classroom setting and working directly with them, often one-on-one to focus on improving weaknesses.

Kaiser said literacy and numeracy are critical foundations in the early years, setting up students for success in later life.

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According to their most recent assessments, Kaiser said, students in grades 2 and 3 have made significant improvements since their work began in January.

“We’ve already seen some tremendous gains in our at-risk students, in terms of their learning and in their confidence levels.”

Kaiser said CCSD applied for Grade 1 intervention funding Feb. 4, but have not heard back from the province.

Katherine Stavropoulos, press secretary for the education department, said the Grade 1 application deadline for additional funding through the “COVID-19 Learning Disruption Initiative” was extended to Feb. 7, with funds expected to be distributed by the end of the month.

“After providing $30 million in learning disruption funding in the fall to support students in grades 2 and 3, we will be distributing $15 million to help address COVID-19 related learning disruptions for Grade 1 students,” she said.

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“The Grade 1 application deadline for additional funding through this initiative was extended, in part because of the extended winter break due to COVID-19 and also to reflect feedback from school authorities who identified additional time would support them to complete Grade 1 student assessments during the same time period.”

Officials with CBE said they have also not been provided their funding for Grade 1 learning loss, adding that whenever they do get it, they will make the most of how much time is left in the school year.

“We have seen the benefit of the supports funded by this grant with our grade 2 and 3 students,” said Megan Geyer, CBE spokeswoman.

“Regardless of when CBE receives the funding, we will maximize the targeted intervention we can provide to Grade 1 students to supplement what is already provided by their teachers.”

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