The Rockefeller Foundation launches a new initiative with 21 of the nation’s leading labs and test manufacturers to enable America’s K-12 public schools to test every student, teacher, and staff and safely and sustainably reopen in-person learning.
The K-12 National Testing Action Program: Connecting Schools with the Nation’s Leading Testing Companies to Safely Reopen (NTAP) provides guidance on two types of testing strategies–PCR and rapid antigen testing–and connects schools with leading testing vendors. NTAP provides a critical roadmap to initiate a testing program that operationalizes the funds from the Biden Administration’s recent $10 billion allocation from the American Rescue Plan towards routine school testing to safely reopen America’s schools.
“The direct benefits of routine testing can only be realized if testing is easy, accessible, and affordable to every school,” said Andrew Sweet, Managing Director of Covid-19 Response and Recovery at The Rockefeller Foundation. “The K-12 National Testing Action Program is a critical tool to connect schools with top testing companies to help them procure and process Covid-19 tests in the most cost-effective way.”
In December 2020, The Rockefeller Foundation released a landmark report, which reflected the research and recommendations of 150 experts, that recommended twice a week testing for teachers and staff and once a week testing for students alongside vaccination and other mitigation measures to safely get students and teachers back to in-person instruction. Building on the report, NTAP recommends two strategies, PCR and antigen testing, that enable schools to work with testing vendors to reliably test every week, and includes case studies of how early adopters of routine school-based testing have piloted successful programs.
“Testing empowers school leaders and communities with the knowledge they need to safely operate in-person learning,” said Mara Aspinall, Co-Founder and Professor of Practice, Biomedical Diagnostics at Arizona State University and Lead Author of NTAP. “Routine testing serves as an early warning system to identify asymptomatic infections and stop the chain of transmission to prevent outbreaks. It also provides critical information to reassure school communities that additional public health measures–masking, distancing, hand hygiene, ventilation–are effective.”
In order for schools to identify and evaluate vendors operating in their area, NTAP includes a contact list of leading companies – testing labs and test manufacturers – and a complementary worksheet that outlines key considerations for evaluating proposals. The list of vendors includes companies that have experience with K-12 school-based testing but does not represent all vendors with school testing experience. Schools should consider reaching out directly to the contacts provided or other vendors for more information and to begin implementing a test program. Schools can also work with any testing vendor that meets their needs.
As the nation enters the second year of the pandemic and schools across the country begin to reopen for in-person learning, testing remains a critical, yet underutilized, tool for communities seeking to take control and return kids to classrooms. School leaders have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of public health decisions they have to make in the face of the changing pandemic realities. Yet, the experiences of early adopters of testing programs show that regular testing can be effectively integrated into schools’ Covid-19 response plans and can help families and staff feel confident participating in in-person instruction.
The success of PCR and antigen testing strategies has allowed schools students and teachers across the country to return to the classroom. Aggregate data, published in NTAP, across multiple schools and their surrounding communities shows that the average school positivity rate is between 0.25 to 0.5 percent while the surrounding community positivity rate is approximately 7.23 percent In addition, early results from six K-12 testing pilots, funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and facilitated by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Foundation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and an independent assessment conducted by RAND Corporation of school testing programs across the country, found that weekly testing of all students, teachers, and staff can reduce in-school infections by an estimated 50 percent and would give teachers additional peace of mind to return to the classroom.
School reopening amidst a global pandemic is a challenging issue that requires an unprecedented number of resources and cross-sector collaboration. The Rockefeller Foundation, working with diverse partners, has spent the past year issuing plans, studying public health guidance, surveying stakeholders, briefing policymakers, and supporting cities, suburbs, and rural communities alike in their effort to reopen schools safely and equitably. The $10 billion in federal funding and technical assistance from the Biden Administration along with breakthroughs in test technology and increases in test production will ensure that schools and their districts have the necessary resources to pay for tests and managing the necessary logistics of implementing an effective testing program.