Stakeholders at all levels realize the urgency. While we need to acknowledge the realities of lower-than-expected test scores that schools are seeing, there’s no benefit to focusing too narrowly on the downside. Instead, we can reframe it as an opportunity to re-evaluate our tools, processes, and intervention approaches to identify those that are most effective for meeting current needs.
We all do our best work when we feel empowered and well-equipped with the tools we need to succeed. That’s given our team a sense of purpose as we work with educators to collectively focus our time and attention on building and deploying resources that allow us to be part of the solution.
Defining the challenges: An unequal distribution
It’s clear that the impacts of the pandemic weren’t felt equally by all groups. Any kind of public health disaster tends to amplify the vulnerabilities that already exist in our communities, which means low-income families and students of color bore the brunt of the pandemic’s pressures, including in the educational environment.
It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen before with other societal disruptions, such as severe weather events. For example, Hurricane Harvey greatly affected my local community here in the Gulf Coast area, and we know that exposure to previous adverse events has been shown to exacerbate the impacts of subsequent occurrences. That means these most vulnerable populations tend to experience long-term cumulative impacts to their economic and mental health. Therefore, these communities need the most intensive resources and ongoing support to build up resiliency.
Another group who we know faced greater struggles are students with learning disabilities. These students require more intensive instructional assistance to succeed, but that was more difficult to offer throughout the pandemic. This cohort is at an increased risk for co-occurring emotional and behavioral conditions such as anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorders. Now more than ever it’s vital to evaluate children with learning difficulties for behavioral and emotional problems so they can get the support they need to thrive.
Given that educators are confronted with the extensive effects of an ongoing mental health crisis, we are seeing the importance of mental health screening and other support for teachers in helping their students.
Closing the gap through a supportive suite of digital tools
School districts are increasingly taking advantage of resources available to help address learning and mental health challenges. Fresh infusions of federal dollars can help underwrite some of the expenses districts face in addressing these issues. Digital tools are a valuable way to provide a frictionless assessment workflow because they minimize testing and scoring time, and they offer more reliable and accurate scoring through automated processes.
At Pearson we have responded to this need with a comprehensive suite of digital offerings. Pearson's Digital Assessment Library for Schools provides more than 40 digitally based assessments, organized by domain areas and clinical needs. Our goal is to provide wraparound resources so these assessments come with associated toolkits, which are guidance documents that offer insight for using assessments most effectively.
For example, the dyslexia toolkit provides a theoretical framework that explains what dyslexia is and how to select the best tools for screening, assessment, intervention, and progress monitoring that involves all the appropriate professionals. The goal is not just to conduct a stand-alone evaluation, but to use the results to inform intervention. An effective assessment-to-intervention process guides the student toward success. In addition to the toolkits for dyslexia and dysgraphia, which impact reading and writing, we’re developing a similar resource for dyscalculia and its effects on math learning.
Especially after a significant educational disruption, we advocate for prioritizing instruction and using assessment results as guideposts to help monitor, inform and diagnose as needed. Screenings can provide critical information to guide decision making, especially when determining whether a specific learning disability or social-emotional and mental health concern may be contributing to academic difficulties.
The education and research community is advocating for school-wide social and emotional support, which provides a solid foundation for academic instruction and intervention to take place. For students showing persistent or elevated behavioral or mental health issues, the next step would be individualized screening or assessment. We recommend assessments that can gather information from students, teachers and parents, such as the Beck Youth Inventories, the BASC-3 Behavioral and Emotional Screening System, and, for more in-depth evaluations, the Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC-3).
The assessments and resources we recommend in our toolkits are best-in-class for improving student outcomes. However, these products rely on classroom and clinical professionals who are trained and well-supported to interpret assessment results and make well-informed recommendations. Pearson offers extensive training resources to support assessment professionals in using our products effectively.
It will take a village
Strong mental health is essential to the overall wellbeing of children. It is also the cornerstone of learning achievement.
It will take teamwork to overcome the gaps we are experiencing today. We are seeing the best outcomes when educators take a holistic approach that includes strong collaboration between caregivers at home and educators at school because that approach supports students from all sides. At Pearson, we’ve realized how crucial this is, and we are providing more resources that can go home to caregivers as part of our assessment results.
As educators, students and families work together, they can ensure a bright future for each one of today’s students, and Pearson stands at the ready to assist with the right supports your district needs for maximum achievement.
Can we help your district build a solution that inspires students to perform at their best in the classroom and beyond? Visit Pearson’s Mental Health And Anxiety Resource Center today to explore tools that support students and educators along this journey.