Washington student learning loss prompts bill to add one week to school year

Two Washington state lawmakers have put forward a bipartisan bill in the Senate to expand the school year by five days.

Two Washington state lawmakers have put forward a bipartisan bill in the Senate to expand the school year by five days

Brett Davis
The Center Square Washington

In response to student learning loss due to the closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, two Washington state lawmakers have put forward a bipartisan bill in the Senate to expand the school year by five days.

State Sens. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, and Linda Wellman, D-Mercer Island, introduced Senate Bill 5505 that lengthens the school year to 185 days from 180 days.

The first section of bill explains lawmakers’ rationale: “The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique set of challenges and circumstances that have tested the K-12 education system. Due to reduced instructional time, educational inequities, and the inability to access technology and educational services, many students have suffered learning loss and a disruption to their educational experience. As a result, the legislature finds that an expanded school calendar will help students address learning loss.”

Washington fourth- and eighth-graders saw unprecedented declines in math and reading achievement between 2019 and 2022, according to the results of national exams administered during the previous school year.

In March 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order closing all K-12 public and private schools in an attempt to lessen or stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

By the beginning of the 2021 school year, there were no reported in-person schooling disruptions in Washington state, according to Burbio, a school data aggregator.

Despite the switch to remote learning where possible, the damage was done.

Washington fourth-graders saw a 5 point decline in math, and eighth-graders saw a decline of 10 points, according to the results of the National Assessment of Education Progress, sometimes referred to as “the nation’s report card.” 

Reading results weren’t much better, with Washington fourth-graders dropping 3 points in that category and eighth-graders dropping 5 points.

NAEP tests are administered in randomly sampled public and private schools across the nation. Last year, 224,000 fourth-graders from approximately 5,700 schools participated, and 222,000 eighth-graders from approximately 5,100 schools participated. Testing took place between January and March.

The Center Square reached out to Hawkins and Wellman for comment on their bill, but did not receive a reply from either lawmaker.

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction gave SB 5505 its stamp of approval. 

“Thank you for reaching out about this,” OSPI Director of Executive Director of Communications Katy Payne told The Center Square via email. “OSPI is in support of this bill.”

SB 5505 had its first reading on Monday and has been referred to the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.

This report was first published by The Center Square Washington.

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