116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Community School District is reducing class sizes and adding 40 more teachers and staff next academic year to help mitigate learning loss that had occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And this summer, the district is focusing its summer school efforts on first-graders, offering three-hour programs and short tutoring sessions to help students most affected by the pandemic academically.
Diane Schumacher, executive director of teaching and learning, said the need for academic supports in first grade is bigger than in other elementary grades.
“The end of their kindergarten year was cut short, and the beginning of their first-grade year was in and out of different learning models from virtual to hybrid instruction,” Schumacher said. “In two years of education, they haven’t had a full year that wasn’t impacted somewhat by the pandemic.”
First-graders in Iowa City were 67 percent proficient in reading in tests conducted before the pandemic, above the state average of 54 percent. The number dropped to 45 percent this past fall, but students are steadily improving, with just over half of first-graders proficient in reading — 51 percent — earlier this calendar year.
The cost of the additional staff starting this fall will come from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, and will be about $7.2 million over the next two years. One staff member will be added to each elementary school, and math and reading academic support teachers will be added to each secondary school, Schumacher said.
Overall, Schumacher said, she believes students did better academically this year than expected.
“We certainly see some drops in our test scores, but not drastic, and nothing we can’t overcome,” she said. “It’s very manageable, and with extra support we can help students recover that lost learning.”
The district also hopes to reduce class sizes next year.
The district uses the Weighted Resource Allocation Model to control class sizes based on rates of students who face barriers in their education. For example, if 70 percent or more of students in a classroom is on free and reduced-price lunch, the class size will be smaller than a classroom with fewer than the 70 percent, Schumacher said.
Decisions about how summer school is being offered are left up to each individual school building, depending on the needs of students.
Principals have been reaching out to families who qualify to gauge their interest in participating in summer school. Any first-grader below proficiency qualifies for summer school.
A lot of families are saying their children need a break from school, Schumacher said. She expects less than half of the 500 first-graders who have been invited to the summer school program to participate.
Schools that have openings may begin offering summer school spots to kindergartners or second-graders, Schumacher said.
“We think this summer we aren’t going to have a high number of kids taking advantage of the program, which matches our ability to staff it,” Schumacher said. “Teachers are saying they need a break to recuperate from this year and plan for next year.”
All Iowa City students will be taking home Chromebooks this summer, and elementary students have access to online programs like DreamBox and Lexia Learning for math and reading.
Schumacher said she encourages students to use these programs, visit their local libraries, read, write about their experiences and practice math this summer.
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