With testing fast approaching for those administering fall tests, staffing shortages are a major concern. If schools cannot secure enough personnel for regular instruction, then what expectations can test coordinators have that they will be available to help with testing? Test time calls for all hands-on deck, but what if there are not enough hands to call on? There has been a great deal of news recently released on this topic, so we have taken the liberty of compiling those that are most likely to affect us on the front lines of testing.
Testing Implication: Test time usually calls for additional staff to ensure all testing accommodations are provided to students in need.
Teacher and Sub Vacancies
This continued pandemic impact has impacted schools nationwide. Along with many others, California is experiencing an unprecedented teacher vacancy and searching for solutions. Substitutes that are usually plentiful are now reduced by two-thirds in some places, causing school districts to scramble for solutions. There’s a lot of strategic thinking and logistical thinking to figure out how best to fill spaces. Some in California are adopting the strategy of recruiting teachers where they’ve grown up, incentivizing staying in-state for higher education or pursuing teaching residencies in their home districts.
Testing Implication: Testing coordinators usually draw from substitute lists to help with additional test groups and accommodated test sessions, like read aloud/oral administration test sessions.
Impact on Learning
The shortage impact on learning effort is of grave concern. Principal Sabine Phillips, Margate Middle School in Broward County, Florida, stated students start at a disadvantage without a certified teacher who can start the curriculum. Research backs up her concern, noting that students whose teachers are hired after the school year begins learning less than their peers. California staffing shortages have caused some to delay their ambitious program to extend school day and year. A recent Podcast dives into California’s struggle to find substitute teachers and some smaller districts fearing temporary school closures as a result. “There’s a ripple effect that happens when there are shortages, vacancies, and absences related to illnesses,” said Fletcher in Tulsa. Those problems, he said, is “taking the focus off of what we had anticipated to do for student recovery.”
Staff shortages have also affected related state recovery efforts as well. Several states and school districts are launching massive tutoring programs with COVID relief money, but they are struggling to find them. In addition to the increase in pay, some are offering other perks. Oklahoma, for example, is paying licensed teachers $50 an hour to tutor, while one effort in Chicago is offering travel and childcare stipends.
Testing Implication: Lack of opportunities to learning and recover learning loss will manifest in low test scores, which will need to be interpreted and explained by testing coordinators.
Bus driver shortage
Related unprecedented shortages of bus drivers and paraeducators as well as teachers are also of concern to testing coordinators nationwide. The bus driver shortage is forcing some districts to take extraordinary measures, such as paying families to opt out of school-supplied transportation and offering $2,500 bonuses to new bus drivers. In Massachusetts, 250 National Guard members were called in to help with the bus driver shortage. In New York and Maryland, governors called for easing restrictions on new bus driver hires.
Testing Implication: Bus drivers support the testing process by providing transportation to students who test on alternative schedules or at alternate locations, while paraprofessional help administer tests in small group and accommodated settings for students with special needs.
Innovations Addressing Shortages
The staffing shortage has called for innovations. Districts across the U.S. are offering big incentives to substitutes and special education teachers. In addition to offering hefty signing bonuses, others have adapted to four-day work weeks. In order to combat suspected retirement spikes and less interest in educational paths, some school and state leaders are getting creative through Alternative Teacher Certification Programs. Additional innovations include a bill in Colorado recruiting high school students into teacher programs and Nevada’s plan to hire retired public employees to fill special education vacancies.
Testing Implication: These innovations may result in a review of and possible change in testing rules and training to ensure test administrators meet state requirements.
In every way, these staff shortages directly or indirectly impact the testing environment, as they do the instructional setting. Whether it is our concern that students are at a learning disadvantage that will manifest in final test results, or the logistical coordination challenges we will face with fewer teachers, subs, or transportation, we are watching. We will need to continue to monitor the situation locally and nationwide so we can each plan accordingly and put students in the best position possible to be successful today and throughout the school year.
An analysis of data from 20 large school districts found 18 began the school year without enough teachers, putting students at risk of learning less.