NWEA Experts Share Education Predictions for the New Year

What trends or important topics will impact K-12 education in 2024? NWEA’s expert voices from policy to research to professional learning weigh in on what they predict will be key issues facing educators and schools in the coming year and beyond.

Research-Based Interventions Will Be Needed to Help Older Students With Reading Fluency

“National data show that almost 70% of eighth graders are not considered proficient in reading based on 2022 test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card. In 2024, districts will be working to find research-based interventions to help older students with reading fluency. Reading fluency is essential for effective reading comprehension at any age, but it’s especially critical once students go from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn.’ Unfortunately, many students leaving elementary school are still not proficient in reading, and that creates a significant barrier to their ability to learn across subjects. Middle and high school teachers will need support to help older students with foundational reading skills to address this problem. Programs that emphasize repeated reading and giving older readers the opportunity to choose practice readings on topics they find engaging will help older readers improve fluency.” ~ Laura Hansen, Director of Academic Services at NWEA

Academic Identities of Educators Must be a Focal Point to Drive Equity

“As the conversation around equity in K12 education continues, in 2024 we will see more around the topic of academic identities, which are the attitudes, beliefs, and dispositions toward teaching and learning. When teachers develop an unhealthy academic identity, their internalized negative perception is very likely to influence their instruction and can shape their students’ academic identity. To create equitable learning environments, teachers must be deliberate in raising their awareness of self and others, exploring their beliefs, examining their actions, and strengthening their academic identity. In 2024, more teachers will identify and address their academic identities, whether healthy or not, and employ strategies in their classroom to help all students thrive.” ~ Fenesha Hubbard, NWEA Lead Professional Learning Designer and author of the book, The Equity Expression.

Academic Interventions: What’s Working?

Students remain far behind from pre-pandemic levels of achievement. School districts that serve higher percentages of low-income and minority students, and that offered remote or hybrid instruction for longer periods of time during the pandemic, have experienced some of the largest setbacks in achievement from the pandemic. While school districts made some progress in reducing pandemic-related achievement gaps in the 2021-22 school year, progress has stalled in the 2022-23 school year. Clearly, unfinished or delayed learning from the pandemic is a challenge that is going to persist for some time, and school districts will need to engage with evidence-based strategies to help accelerate student learning for the long term. Interventions that have strong evidence of efficacy include high-dosage tutoring, summer school programs, and double-dose math classes. Districts should adopt these high-impact interventions, while continuing to monitor implementation and adapt interventions to local context, so that students can have access to meaningful opportunities to catch up on unfinished learning.” ~ Dr. Ayesha K. Hashim, NWEA Research Scientist

A Data-Driven Revolution in Gifted and Talented Identification

In 2024, states are poised to revolutionize their approach to Gifted and Talented (GT) education, driving greater equity and inclusion through a dual strategy of data-driven identification (e.g., Washington state’s new universal screening law) and the implementation of state policies mandating access to gifted services (e.g., Missouri’s new law mandating access to gifted services). Universal screening, encompassing a multitude of assessment tools, will ensure that no gifted potential remains unnoticed, while continuous monitoring and transparent reporting will guarantee equal access to the selection process. Simultaneously, state policies will require the development of individualized learning plans for gifted students, promoting inclusive enrichment opportunities, differentiated instruction, and robust teacher professional development. These comprehensive measures aim to create a more equitable and inclusive GT education system, offering every student a chance to thrive in their areas of strength, regardless of background or circumstance.” ~ Dr. Scott Peters, NWEA Senior Research Scientist

Classroom Practices That Support High Growth Learning Will Be Essential

“In 2024, the imperative to enrich the classroom experience will persist, given the multifaceted challenges faced by students in this post-pandemic world. The cornerstone of elevating educational quality rests upon strengthening the student-teacher relationship. By fostering meaningful and constructive interactions and offering valuable feedback to students, we empower them to take greater ownership of their learning journey. Implementing a diverse range of strategies, inspired by successful models in high-achieving educational settings, opens the door for learners at various proficiency levels to explore and thrive. Recent research underscores the efficacy of specific approaches and practices in promoting substantial learning growth, such as allocating time for retrieval practice (where students benefit from multiple opportunities to reinforce new knowledge) and maintaining flexibility in student group dynamics (allowing for effective student movement between learning groups), among others.” ~ Dr. Chase Nordengren, NWEA, Principal Research Lead, Effective Instructional Strategies at NWEA, and author of the book, Step Into Student Goal Setting.

It’s Time to Rebrand Summer as an Academic Growth Driver

While the pandemic is in our rearview mirror, its effects are still deeply felt, especially among the millions of US students academically recovering from its impacts. Recent research highlighted that recovery will take most students several additional months of learning to get to pre-pandemic academic levels. And pre-pandemic levels were not stellar to begin with for many students. The traditional school year calendar can only fit in so much. Summer has immense potential to propel learning if used strategically – and not just to address COVID recovery but as a long-term sustainable approach to drive academic growth. This will take high-engagement summer programs targeted to the specific academic needs of individual students built around the needs of families.  If done collaboratively, with engagement and communications with families at the forefront, schools can chip away at the stigma of “summer school” and make summer learning the new norm that families calendar into their plans and value it as a priority for their students.” ~ Dr. Andrew McEachin, VP of Research & Policy Partnerships at NWEA

ESSER Fiscal Cliff is Here; Reliable and Actionable Data will be Key to Investing in Effective Efforts

 “As we approach the impending ESSER fiscal cliff, states and school districts across the country will be grappling with the abrupt loss of federal pandemic relief funding. They have about $70 billion left to spend this school year—about 10% on top of their normal budgets—and then the money runs out. Schools have relied on those funds for the creation or expansion of summer programs and tutoring services, the purchase of high-quality curriculum and instructional materials, and a plethora of other efforts to address learning gaps students experienced through the COVID-19 pandemic. 2024 will be a mix of states and districts spending their remaining funds while also looking to the future. As the one-time funds expire, it will be more important than ever for education communities to have access to reliable and actionable data to know which interventions have been most effective in helping students grow, and where to continue investing strategically amidst shrinking budgets. Policymakers will be looking to leverage their existing data sources to better understand those trends and the remaining gaps, and they will continue to look for innovative approaches to learning and ways to assess the needs of students.” ~ Lindsay Dworkin, SVP of Policy & Government Affairs at NWEA