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Urgency over national report card distracts from longstanding challenges

Students left the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science and Madison Park High School on Jan. 4 and headed toward public transit on Tremont Street in Boston.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Re “Leaders called slow to fight lag in learning: Advocates seek quicker use of aid” (Page A1, Oct. 25): The education sector has seen unprecedented disruption. Over the past three years, students, families, educators, and communities have navigated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing racism, a toxic sociopolitical climate, recurring gun violence, a struggling economy, and more.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress report highlighting learning loss comes as no surprise. However, the loud ringing of alarm bells feels like a distraction from the need for deep conversations about the challenges education faced long before the pandemic. At best, these data prompt us to ask about what constitutes learning and who gets to decide, interrogate, and expand our understanding of how learning happens. Most important, this discussion should include the meaning of pace and scale (for example, when students’ pace of growth is cited without regard to where they started, and when people in your article talk about rolling out enrichment programs more widely); the learning taking place both inside and away from school facilities; and the ways traditional assessments fail to measure other important learning and knowledge.


The current framing of learning loss is problematic. It casts burden and blame on students and educators while promoting a notion that if strategies double down on intense interventions and do things faster, progress and achievement would happen. Despite the pandemic and our sociopolitical climate, many students learned a lot in ways that unfortunately are not measured on the “Nation’s Report Card” or standardized assessments. It is humbling and inspiring to reflect on how students and educators have done their best to stay the course.

Let’s shift our urgency to addressing the root causes of the issues at hand, which requires more than Band-Aid solutions such as intensive tutoring and extended school days and years.


Gislaine N. Ngounou

Interim president and CEO

Nellie Mae Education Foundation


The writer holds a doctor of education leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.