Ames district's plan for spending COVID relief money is taking shape. It's due before the start of school
The Ames Community School District received more than $750,000 to address learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will still take some weeks or months before plans for what to do with that and more money are finalized.
States have distributed to districts three rounds of emergency coronavirus relief money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
Iowa has so far received more than $516 million out of approximately $774.5 million in ESSER III funds to be given to the state through the most recent federal pandemic response legislation, the American Rescue Plan.
The other third of Iowa's money will be delivered upon the federal government's receipt of the state's plans for spending its ESSER III funds.
Out of what's been allocated so far, Ames received more than $3.7 million in ESSER III funds, with more than $758,000 specifically dedicated to addressing learning loss.
What does data indicate about learning loss in Ames?
While not a complete picture on its own, the Ames school board was given data at its May 17 meeting that showed how many kindergarten through sixth-grade students in certain groups in the district scored at benchmark on FAST literacy assessments in winter 2021 compared to the fall.
Black and Latino students' scores slipped more than white and Asian students' — the latter group had positive growth.
Students who received free or reduced-price meals or who were homeless also had more of a decline in their growth — students not receiving free or reduced-price lunch showed positive growth.
Comparing MAP math test data for Ames students in grades 7-11 between fall 2019 and fall 2020, seventh, eighth, ninth and 11th graders showed less growth than expected. Students did better in reading, with all grades 7-11 exceeding their expected growth.
Superintendent Jenny Risner said, "Our data is going to reflect a global pandemic that we experienced, and students being in a remote environment, and not having the necessary support that they needed.”
Risner said it’s important that school buildings analyze data to make building-level action plans — something she said buildings have improved at doing over the past couple of years.
"We know the only way we get student results is in the classroom, teacher to student, those interactions," she said, adding that from February or March (last year) to until “maybe you could say now, we haven’t returned to a normal learning environment."
“Our role now really has to be on that learning recovery,” as a board and as a community, Risner said.
What's known about how Ames will address learning loss?
Chris Stensland, Ames CSD's chief financial officer, said last week that district ESSER III spending plans are due to the state August 23 — which is two days before some Ames students start school, as classes for the fall resume over three days that week.
Stensland said the Iowa Department of Education will give more guidance on research-based programs to address learning loss, but there's been no timeline given on getting that guidance, as the department continues to get updates from the federal government.
The district is already looking for a full-time director to be paid $90,000 a year to coordinate learning recovery efforts.
Stensland also presented at a recent school board audit and budget committee meeting how much some other ideas might cost, such as $337,500 for five learning recovery teachers.
The district has spent all of its more than $394,000 in ESSER I funds, and has more than $1.3 million left out of more than $1.68 million in ESSER II funds.
Risner, Executive Director of Education Jeff Hawkins and Director of Teaching and Learning Kristi Mixdorf have also been meeting with building leadership teams for weeks to determine learning loss and recovery needs.
District spokesperson Eric Smidt said May 18, "At this point, it would be early to specifically identify what recovery learning will look like."
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Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.