If you’d asked me a year ago how my kids were doing through the pandemic, I would have answered, fine. It seemed so until right before Thanksgiving when I got a call from the school district.

I was stunned to learn that my eldest son, then a junior in high school who had always been a great and advanced student, was failing many of his classes.

It was a painful year full of disappointment and stress, but in the end, he recovered most of it. There are still ripple effects – a lower GPA possibly affecting college admissions, making up a class to graduate on time, and removing himself from the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program that exacerbated his ordeal.

His younger brother, on the other hand, breezed through 8th grade so we were surprised when he was flagged to meet with the high school administrators this September.

Despite passing math last year with a good grade, he was among the more than 865,000 Texas students the Texas Education Agency says are below grade level proficiency in math as determined by the spring STAAR results.

As a result, under the new Texas House Bill 4545, he is required to get “accelerated instruction” and attend no less than 30 hours of additional tutoring this school year to catch him up.

I struggled to understand how it works so I asked Kristine Ferret, EPISD’s executive director of curriculum and instruction.

Ferret explained that HB 4545 explicitly spells out how schools across the state must address learning loss. From the number of tutoring hours required, to how the children are grouped to the fact that the instruction must be supplemental and not during foundational curriculum.

She explained that it is a different approach centered on catching up a student in a specific subject rather than a punitive approach of retaining a student if they didn’t pass. I have read that retention outcomes aren’t great so I can see why they are trying to support and supplement rather than hold back.

HB 4545 applies to kids in elementary, middle and high school and addresses deficiencies in reading, math, science or social studies. Ferret says it includes a 30-hour plan per subject that will cover big concepts from the prior year and connect with the current year. If I understand correctly, an accelerated learning committee reviews and creates a plan for the student around the reported categories they need revisited based on how they tested.

Rolling it out has to be immensely challenging. The bill was barely passed in June. We were notified Sept. 15, and the tutoring began shortly thereafter. But think about this: For EPISD alone the bill would require almost a million hours of additional tutoring. Take a campus like Coronado or Franklin where they are managing something like 800 kids across a bunch of different assessments, it’s not going to be the intimate supplemental learning the bill promises.

While they do get paid for the extra work, let’s not forget that this also means teachers are being tapped to do more, and they are already burning out. Funding comes in from a variety of sources including federal funds, and additional tutors have been hired to help.

Ferret said it felt fast and furious, but they have worked through it and the systems are in place.

Moving forward this bill will apply to any student who doesn’t pass expected state benchmarks, and the program will be offered over the summer instead.

Despite the occasional grousing, my son is handling it fine. I tell him a little more math never hurt anyone. I suspect that there are a ton of peers in the same boat which helps.

Sometimes I wonder, however, if it wouldn’t have been smarter to roll out a do-over school year across the board. I don’t mean to repeat a grade, more like a bridge year to get us from point A to point B and eliminate so much pressure and stress. It’s probably as naïve as me thinking my kids would skirt the impact of the pandemic, but still, I can think of a lot of advantages. Didn’t El Paso Inc. just report last week about our youth’s mental health crisis?

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