Week CLVIII State comptroller: Spend federal funds on students most in need

This graph, from the state comptroller’s report, shows the change in the average scale scores from The National Assessment of Educational Progress between 2019, before the pandemic shut down schools, and 2022. The blue bars on top represent the change in test scores in New York State while the gray bars on the bottom represent the change in test scores nationwide in the United States.

ALBANY COUNTY — This week, the state’s comptroller released a review of how test scores had declined in New York because of the pandemic and urged schools to spend federal funds on students most in need.

The nationwide loss in education had been noted in September 2022 just as schooling without masks and without distancing restrictions was resuming locally. The test results for New York state were released that October.

At the same time, on Oct. 11, 2022, a study published in Educational Researcher found pandemic aid to public schools wasn’t enough to make up for learning loss.

First, wrote the authors, Kenneth A. Shores, from the University of Delaware, and Matthew P. Steinberg, from George Mason University, the amount of aid was inadequate to meet policy goals.

“Second,” the authors continued, “the mechanisms used to distribute funds was disconnected from policy goals and provided different levels of aid to districts with equivalent levels of economic disadvantage. Third, data tools are missing making it difficult to understand whether funds were used to meet policy goals.”

Shores and Steinberg estimate that $700 billion would be needed to offset COVID-induced learning loss, far more than the $190 billion allocated to public K–12 schools by the federal government through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds. 

The authors noted that many school districts did not plan to use the majority of ESSER funds they receive to offset learning loss, and that there was little way for policymakers to know how ESSER support is being used.

“The classroom disruptions caused by the pandemic have hurt New York’s students,” said Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a release this week as he announced the results of his analysis. “Academic losses were greater for younger students, with fourth grade scores dropping more than the national average.

“School districts must act quickly to take full advantage of available resources to help students that are most in need get caught up, before time runs out.”

DiNapoli’s review of recent federal data from The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that, while student performance nationwide dropped significantly in 2022 from 2019, New York’s losses in fourth-grade math and reading scores were double the national average and exceeded 45 other states in math and 38 other states in reading.

The report concedes, “The COVID-19 pandemic hit New York earlier than most states and forced New York’s schools to take on the extraordinary challenge of quickly shifting to remote learning formats.”

Locally, schools were shut down in March 2020 and disruptions continued in the following school year as some classes were taught remotely to meet distancing and other restrictions.

The average drop for fourth-grade math scores, of 10 points, was so severe that McKinsey & Company estimated this learning loss to be the equivalent of nearly an entire school year.

Fourth-grade math proficiency rates declined across all gender, racial, and ethnic groups, and the decline was steepest for Asian and Pacific Islander students, at 14 percentage points. Students from low-income households also experienced steep declines in fourth-grade math proficiency rates from 24 percent to 18 percent.

Based on historic trends in NAEP scoring patterns, McKinsey & Company projected it could take decades to return to pre-pandemic levels of academic performance, the report said.

Relative to other states, New York’s drop was so pronounced that its rank in fourth-grade math fell from 40th to 46th in the nation. 

At the same time, New York’s average score remained steady for eighth-grade reading but declined in eighth grade math by 6 points.

During the pandemic, the federal government allocated over over $15 billion in emergency education aid for New York state, with $14 billion from three rounds of the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund assistance. This aid was aimed at elementary and secondary schools and must be obligated by September 2024.

Based on data from DiNapoli’s COVID-19 Relief Program Tracker, through Jan. 31 New York’s school districts have spent roughly 40 percent of ESSER funds.

Governor Kathy Hochul has proposed $42.1 billion in combined state and federal education aid for the upcoming state fiscal year. However, DiNapoli notes, that total is projected to decline, as the balance of federal pandemic relief funds must be obligated by September 2024.

This could be problematic, he says, if a significant portion of the relief funds is left unspent or is dedicated to programs with recurring expenses or if significant progress in academic recovery has not occurred.

DiNapoli urged the State Education Department to provide school districts with guidance on best practices for spending of funds and encouraged school districts to ensure funds are being used for evidence-based practices for students most in need.


Albany County COVID numbers

This week, Albany County’s 158th of dealing with COVID, which passes the three-year mark — the first confirmed case in the county was on March 20, 2020 — numbers are continuing in the right direction with fewer new cases documented. The same is true statewide and nationwide.

Two new COVID-related deaths in Albany County were reported this week by the governor’s office. The first was reported on Thursday, March 16 and the second on Friday, March 17.

The county’s dashboard, as of Tuesday, March 21, showed a death toll of 628: 302 males and 326 females.

Also this week, Albany County’s designation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has remained at a “medium” community level of COVID-19 after being labeled “high” eight weeks ago.

The county had been designated “medium” by the CDC for the four weeks prior to the “high” designation, which followed two weeks of a “low” designation. That was preceded by four weeks of being labeled “medium” after 13 weeks of being labeled “high.”

All of the counties in New York state are once again designated as either “low” or “medium.”

All of the counties surrounding Albany, except for Rensselaer, are designated “low.” Rensselaer, like Albany county, is labeled “medium.”

Nationwide, similar to the last four weeks, only 1 percent of counties are labeled “high” while 9 percent are “medium,” and the great majority — 90 percent — are labeled “low.”

The weekly metrics the CDC used to determine the current “medium” level for Albany County are:

— Albany County now has a case rate of about 42 per 100,000 of population, a drop from last week’s 55, and a steady decrease to half of 120 eight weeks ago;

— For the important COVID hospital admission rate, Albany County has a rate of 11 per 100,000, down from double that, 22.2, eight weeks ago; and

— Albany County now has 5.5 percent of its staffed hospital beds filled with COVID patients, down slightly from 5.6 last week, hovering near the same mark for about a month, although down from the percentages for the previous seven weeks, which ranged from 6 to 8.

As of March 21, according to Albany County’s COVID dashboard, 26 patients were hospitalized with COVID, down from 30 last week and 31 patients the week before, which was down from 39 three weeks ago, near the same mark for a month but down from 42 seven weeks ago, 43 eight weeks ago, and 46 nine weeks ago.

About 38 percent of the Capital Region residents hospitalized with COVID this week were not admitted because of having the virus, according to a March 17 chart from the governor’s office.

In New York state, according to the health department’s most recent figures, for samples collected between Feb. 26 and March 11, the Omicron variant made up 100 percent of new cases.

The Omicron sublineage XBB.1.5 dominates at 79 percent, down from 89 percent in the last fortnight, which had been increasing from 39 percent for the six weeks prior; 8 percent were XBB up from 3 percent while another 8 percent were BQ.1.1., also up from 3 percent during the previous fortnight, from Feb. 12 to 25. The other sublineages made up less than 3 percent of new cases.

Nationwide, according to the CDC, from March 12 to 18, the XBB.1.5 sublineage made up 90 percent of new cases, the same as last week, steadily rising from 49 percent eight weeks ago, followed by BQ.1.1 at 4 percent and XBB at 3 percent.

Meanwhile, in our region, which includes New York, New Jersey, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, 95 percent of new cases are caused by the XBB.1.5 sublineage of Omicron; the percentage had grown steadily to 99 two weeks ago but has declined slightly while XBB.1.5.1 has gained ground to make up 3 percent of new cases followed by XBB at 1 percent.

Although figures on infection rates are no longer reliable since tracing and tracking systems have been disbanded, the state dashboard shows that cases in Albany County as well as statewide have continued to decline in recent weeks.

Eleven weeks ago, rates for both the state and county had jumped after having leveled off in November following two months of climbing.

Albany County, as a seven-day average, has 4.1 cases per 100,000 of population, down from 6.5 last week and 8.7 two weeks ago, which has been in a more or less steady decline from 12.4 eleven weeks ago.

Numbers hovered between 8 and 11 before that, which was a fairly steady decrease from 21.8 cases per 100,000 twenty-seven weeks ago.

This compares with 4.9 cases per 100,000 statewide, down from rates over the last month-and-a-half in the twenties following a fairly steady decrease from 30.03 per 100,000 of population five months ago.

The lowest rates are in places that once were hotspots: New York City has the lowest rate this week at 3.6 cases per 100,000 of population, down from 9.5 four weeks ago.

The highest count is in Central New York at 8.2 cases per 100,000 as a seven-day average, followed by the Finger Lakes at 8.1, and the North Country at 7.9.

The numbers for vaccination in Albany County have hardly budged for several months. The state’s dashboard now reports on these two categories:

— People with a primary series, for those who have completed the recommended initial series of a given COVID-19 vaccine product — two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine; and

— People who are up to date, for those who have completed all COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster, as appropriate per age and clinical recommendations.

As of Tuesday, 21.6 percent percent of Albany County residents were up to date on vaccines, a gradual increase from 17.9 fourteen weeks ago, as opposed to the 61.5 percent of eligible residents who had received booster shots, as reported in prior weeks.

At the same time, 76.3 percent of county residents have completed a primary series, nearly the same as the last several weeks.

This compares with 76.5 percent of New Yorkers statewide completing a vaccination series, and 14.1 percent being up to date with vaccinations, up from 10.6 fourteen weeks ago.

New Yorkers are still being encouraged by the state’s health department to get bivalent COVID-19 vaccine boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech for anyone age 5 or older and from Moderna for those 6 or older.

To schedule an appointment for a booster, New Yorkers are to contact their local pharmacy, county health department, or healthcare provider; visit vaccines.gov; text their ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find nearby locations.

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