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Forty-Four Percent of Public School Students Began 2023-24 Year Behind Grade Level in at Least One Academic Subject, Principals Say

December 14, 2023

About one in five public schools report having multiple teaching vacancies, new NCES data show

WASHINGTON (December 14, 2023)—Public school leaders nationwide estimated that, on average, 44 percent of their students did not begin the 2023-24 school year at grade level in at least one academic subject, an improvement over the 49 percent reported for the start of the prior school year, according to data released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical center within the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

“The information we are releasing provides valuable context for the challenges facing public schools as they continue the vital work of education recovery, including staffing and academic gaps for students,“ said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “On one hand, 44 percent of students are behind in at least one subject, school leaders tell us. On the other hand, this does signal progress compared with the start of the prior year, when a larger share of students, 49 percent, were considered behind academically.”

The new data also shed light on teaching vacancies. Twenty-one percent of public schools reported having multiple teaching vacancies in October 2023, the data show, down from 26 percent a year earlier. Multiple teaching vacancies were more prevalent in schools with 1,000 or more students, those in high-poverty neighborhoods, and in schools serving primarily students of color.

For non-teaching staff, 29 percent of public schools reported multiple vacancies. Some of the non-teaching staff positions for which the highest percentages of vacancies were reported include tutors (11 percent), classroom aides (8 percent), and transportation staff (7 percent).

The new results from the School Pulse Panel (SPP) also shed light on the tutoring programs available in public schools. Most public schools – 82 percent – offer some type of tutoring support in 2023-24. In the prior academic year, about 83 percent of schools reported offering some type of tutoring support. Thirty-nine percent of public schools offer high-dosage tutoring (HDT) in 2023-24, and 52 percent offer standard tutoring.

Additional data collected from 99 public K-12 schools in the U.S. Outlying Areas (OA) – American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – are also available. Results from this collection include the finding that an estimated 52 percent of OA public school students did not begin the 2023-24 school year at grade level in at least one academic subject, according to school principals.

The findings released today are part of an experimental data product from the School Pulse Panel, NCES’s innovative approach to delivering timely information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on public K-12 schools in the U.S. The data, collected between October 10 and October 24 of this year, came from 1,421 participating public K-12 schools from every state and the District of Columbia.

Experimental data products are innovative statistical tools created using new data sources or methodologies. Experimental data may not meet all of NCES’s quality standards but are of sufficient benefit to data users in the absence of other relevant products to justify release. NCES clearly identifies experimental data products upon their release.

All data released today can be found on the School Pulse Panel dashboard at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/spp/results.asp.

Key Findings

Public School Staffing Vacancies

  • As of October 2023, 37 percent of public schools were operating with at least one teaching vacancy, down from the 44 percent that were operating with at least one teaching vacancy as of October 2022. This includes 21 percent of public schools operating with multiple teaching vacancies.
    • Compared to the overall population of schools operating with multiple teaching vacancies (21 percent), higher percentages of these groups of schools were operating with multiple teaching vacancies; schools with 1,000 students or more, 35 percent; schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, 32 percent; and schools with a student body made up of 76 percent or more students of color, 31 percent
  • Nationally, 3 percent of all public school teaching positions were vacant as of October 2023.
    • Some of the teaching positions with the highest percentages of vacant positions were special education (6 percent), career or technical education (5 percent) and ESL or bilingual education (5 percent).
  • As of October 2023, 45 percent of public schools were operating with at least one non-teaching staff vacancy, which was not statistically different from the 40 percent operating this way in October 2022. This includes 29 percent of public schools operating with multiple non-teaching staff vacancies.
    • Compared to the overall population of public schools operating with multiple non-teaching staff vacancies (29 percent), larger percentages of public schools with 1,000 or more students (44 percent) and with a student body made up of 76 percent or more students of color (37 percent) were operating with multiple non-teaching staff vacancies, while smaller percentages of schools with a student body made up of 25 percent or fewer students of color (23 percent) and in rural areas (18 percent) were doing so.
  • Across the country, 6 percent of all public school non-teaching staff positions were vacant as of October 2023.
    • Some of the non-teaching staff positions for which the highest percentages of vacant positions were reported include tutors (11 percent), classroom aides (8 percent), and transportation staff (7 percent).
  • The most commonly reported ways that teaching and non-teaching staff vacancies have impacted public schools during the 2023-24 school year are:
    • Increased need to use non-teaching staff outside of intended duties (42 percent)
    • Increased need to use teachers outside of intended duties (40 percent)
    • Increased class sizes (28 percent)
    • Sharing of teachers and/or staff with other schools (24 percent)

Learning Recovery and Tutoring

  • Public school leaders estimated that 44 percent of their students began the 2023-24 school year behind grade level in at least one academic subject. This is a 5 percentage-point decrease in the percentage estimated by principals at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
    • For the 2023-24 school year, the following types of public schools reported higher percentages of students behind grade level compared to the national average:
      • Public schools with a student body made up of 76 percent or higher students of color (59 percent behind grade level)
      • Public schools in high-poverty neighborhoods (56 percent behind grade level)
      • Public schools in the western United States (53 percent behind grade level)
      • Public schools in cities (53 percent behind grade level)
    • For the 2023-24 school year, the following types of public schools reported lower percentages of students behind grade level compared to the national average :
      • Public schools in low poverty neighborhoods (41 percent)
      • Public schools with a student body made up of 25 percent or lower students of color (33 percent)
      • Public schools with a student body made up of 26 to 75 percent students of color (41 percent)
      • Public schools in the northeast United States (37 percent)
      • Public schools in rural areas (39 percent)
      • Public schools with 1,000 or more students (36 percent)
    • Among schools that reported having students who began the school year behind grade level in at least one academic subject, smaller percentages of schools in 2023-24 compared to the 2022-23 school year reported students being behind in English or Language Arts (97 versus 99 percent), sciences (74 versus 81 percent), and social studies (54 versus 69 percent).
  • For the 2023-24 school year, 82 percent of public schools are offering some type of tutoring program. Specifically (definitions below):
    • Fifty-two percent of public schools are offering standard tutoring, a lower percentage than did so last school year (59 percent).
    • Thirty-nine percent of public schools are offering high-dosage tutoring, which was not statistically different from the percentage that did so last school year (37 percent).
    • Fourteen percent of public schools are offering self-paced tutoring, a lower percentage than did so last school year (21 percent).
    • Eight percent of public schools are offering on-demand online tutoring (not asked about during last school year).
    • Ten percent of public schools are offering some type of tutoring other than those that were specifically asked about, a higher percentage than reported doing so last school year (5 percent).
  • Nationally, principals estimated that about 11 percent of all public school students have received standard tutoring, 11 percent have received high-dosage tutoring, 6 percent have received self-paced tutoring, and 1 percent have accessed on-demand tutoring programs offered by public schools during the 2023-24 school year.
  • When asked about the perceived effectiveness of various tutoring programs, the following percentages of public schools that offer each type of tutoring program reported the following as ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ effective for improving student outcomes1:
    • Standard tutoring – 22 percent
    • High-dosage tutoring – 38 percent
    • Self-paced tutoring – 22 percent
  • Seventy percent of public schools offering high-dosage tutoring reported using federal funds (ESSER I, ESSER II, ARP ESSER, or other federal grants or programs) to support this tutoring program; 55 percent offering standard tutoring used federal funds to support it; 42 percent offering self-paced tutoring used federal funds to support it; and 33 percent offering on-demand tutoring used federal funds to support it. Additionally, nearly half of the public schools offering standard (46 percent), high-dosage (49 percent), or self-paced (47 percent) tutoring did so with district or school financial funding. Thirty-two percent used district or school financial funding to support on-demand tutoring programs.

Definitions of Tutoring Programs

  • Standard tutoring was defined to respondents as a less intensive method of tutoring in which the same student(s) receive(s) tutoring
    • Any number of times per week OR on an as-needed (drop-in) basis
    • In sessions with no minimum length of time
    • In sessions that may be one-on-one or involve any number of other students, and
    • That is provided by educators who may or may not have received specific training in tutoring practices.
  • High-dosage tutoring (also known as evidence-based or high-quality tutoring) was defined to respondents as a method of tutoring in which the same student(s) receive(s) tutoring
    • Three or more times per week
    • For at least 30 minutes per session,
    • In sessions that are one-on-one or with small groups,
    • That is provided by educators or well-trained tutors who have received specific training in tutoring practices,
    • That aligns with evidence-based core curriculum or programs, AND
    • Is NOT drop-in homework help
  • Self-paced tutoring was defined to respondents as a method of tutoring in which a student works on their own, typically online, where they are provided guided instruction that allows them to move onto new material after displaying mastery of content.
  • On-demand online tutoring was defined to respondents as a method of tutoring in which a school partners with or contracts out services to an external online tutoring program or company that
    • Offers 24/7 support
    • Is led by qualified tutors (e.g., certified teachers, subject-matter experts), and
    • Is available on-demand for students to access

1 Data did not meet reporting standards for on-demand tutoring.

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The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, is the statistical center of the U.S. Department of Education and the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES fulfills a congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition and progress of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.

Follow NCES on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube and subscribe to the NCES Newsflash to receive email notifications when new data are released.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the independent and nonpartisan statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Its mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.

CONTACT:
Josh De La Rosa, National Center for Education Statistics, ARIS.NCES@ed.gov
Erik Robelen, Hager Sharp, erobelen@hagersharp.com