Impact Florida partners with Harvard’s Proving Ground to support the most vulnerable students amid COVID-19

Impact Florida, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization, and Proving Ground, an initiative of the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University, have launched a cadre of educators and researchers across four Florida districts to address the pressing challenges their most vulnerable students face as they return to school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders from those four school districts and both organizations presented about the cadre at a morning session of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents’ 2020 Fall Leadership Virtual Conference Series Friday.

“COVID-19 amplifies challenges for all students, and especially for those who may already be behind,” Impact Florida President Mandy Clark said. “Our cadre districts have committed to increasing support of their vulnerable populations of students. We saw a real opportunity to help them, and all Florida districts, learn what interventions are most effective not just now, but in a post-COVID world as well.”

The COVID Recovery Cadre includes Collier County Public Schools, the School Board of Highlands County, the School District of Palm Beach County, and Pasco County Schools. The cadre began with an intention to support Black, Latinx, and low-income students and worked together to identify a specific population — 8th and 9th-grade students in Pre-Algebra and Algebra — to support both academic and social-emotional needs, both of which have been compounded by the pandemic. 

“We anticipated that some of the disruptions in learning may further exacerbate learning gaps for some of our students. We also felt that teachers may need more support as they adapted to different teaching modalities,” Peggy Aune, Collier County Public Schools’ Associate Superintendent of Teaching & Learning said.

This is the third multidistrict learning cadre run by Impact Florida over the past year, and the first supporting districts with challenges related to COVID. Over the coming year, Proving Ground will facilitate their research-based continuous improvement process to help the districts quickly identify and test evidence-based solutions to support their students. By joining this network of districts facing similar barriers to student success, districts will expand their access to actionable findings. 

“One of the many challenges of this pandemic is that it creates more urgency for quality evidence while making it harder to generate it,” Proving Ground Director Dave Hersh said. “We adapted our work to address exactly that problem to make it even easier for districts to select, plan, and pilot interventions on a short turnaround.”

Despite their diversity in size, location, and student populations, the four Cadre districts face similar challenges, including: teacher beliefs and biases about students’ abilities, inconsistent access to Algebra I for students of color, and inconsistent access to high-quality curricula and assessments. To tackle these challenges, each district has chosen an intervention to pilot and test this semester:

  • Collier County Public Schools is engaging pre-Algebra and Algebra I teachers in one-on-one, virtual math instructional development using MQI Coaching.
  • The School Board of Highlands County is tutoring pre-Algebra and Algebra I students to build prerequisite skills and complete unfinished learning while establishing a relationship with a trusted adult. 
  • The School District of Palm Beach County is increasing students’ perceptions of their readiness for Algebra I through several 30-minute online sessions.
  • Pasco County Schools is developing both students’ and teachers’ growth mindsets through online modules.

Impact Florida and the COVID Recovery Cadre will continue to share information about their progress and their learnings throughout this school year both online and through presentations, including at the Impact Florida Virtual Education Summit taking place October 15-16, 2020. 

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