When schools reopened in the fall of 2021, we were all optimistic about being able to provide uninterrupted classroom instruction. We all thought that the next step would be to administer pre-assessments to plan instruction to mitigate learning loss. Unfortunately, schools are still in the midst of uncertainty. Low attendance rates for staff and students due to COVID-related infection rates continue to rise in some parts of our country and some students have not had consistent in-person instruction since the pandemic started in March 2020.
Based on these facts, what should school leaders and teachers do to mitigate learning loss?
The latest research states that the impact is clear. Our most vulnerable students have experienced a significant amount of learning loss, according to two new reports from the consulting firms McKinsey and Company and the NWEA, a non-profit organization that provides academic assessments. The most difficult challenge for students in the most vulnerable group is that some of them were already behind their peers before school closure. The additional loss of instruction has pushed resulted in them being multiple grades behind.
Data Tells the Story – What is behind the Numbers?
There has been extensive research conducted on learning loss which is commonly referred to as the “summer slide” during the summer months. We know for sure that students learn the most during the school year. The achievement gap usually occurs during the early years, and over time these skill gaps impact the student’s ability to perform at proficient levels in reading and math.
According to a study conducted in 2016, the authors shared that over half a million 2nd through 9th-grade students averaged 25 – 30 percentage points of learning loss during the summer months. The most vulnerable students learning loss during the summer was significantly more than their same age-peers. If we consider the fact that the majority of our students are home for 2 months during the summer compared to 1+ years of school closure and the average amount of learning loss for this time, then we may have some students who will exceed the summer slide average of 30%.
What does the research tell us about school closure for the past year or more? Unfortunately, there are no studies available to answer this question.
How should we address these complexities?
We cannot rely on standardized tests because they will not identify the discreet skills that students need to master to close the achievement gap. School leaders should invest in diagnostic assessments and provide teachers with professional development on how to:
- administer, and interpret diagnostic assessments.
- create lesson plans and differentiate instruction.
- intervene, and accelerate student achievement.
- Implement corrective instruction and the gradual release of responsibility.
- measure and monitor student progress.
Evidence-Based Instructional Strategies to Mitigate Learning Loss
Using a standardized one size fits all lesson plan approach or one-and-done has always been problematic. This approach does not address the needs of all students, only the ones who are at or above grade level may benefit, but those who are behind will continue to struggle and fall further behind.
Collaborate – Intensive tutoring is also most effective when collaborating with the student’s classroom teacher to create a profile that identifies their strengths, skill gaps, and learning styles.
Personalize Learning – The classroom teacher and tutor work together to administer a diagnostic pre-assessment to identify prerequisite content that students will need to access grade-level content. Then select the appropriate resources to select curriculum materials, instructional strategies, and intervention support to create mini-lessons to target the prerequisite skills primarily focused on catch-up work. The mini-lesson should be no more than 10-15 minutes. The teacher and tutor should design the lesson plan for core instruction to mitigate learning loss and accelerate closing the achievement gaps.
Assessments and Progress Monitoring – Teachers should administer baseline assessments. The tutor must dig deeper with a diagnostic assessment to identify the discreet skill and barrier to student achievement. Teachers and tutors should administer formative assessments regularly to adjust instruction and determine whether the student is mastering the content taught and moving closer toward proficiency.
Accelerate Learning: Intensive Tutoring Strategy
The research is clear, students must be proficient in reading and math to be college and career-ready. One of the best instructional strategies to mitigate learning loss and accelerate student achievement is frequent and intensive one-on-one or small group tutoring at least 3-4 times per week. Intensive tutoring is most effective when students are administered a diagnostic assessment before instruction starts because this information will identify the gaps in learning that need to be prioritized to accelerate learning.
There are several components that must be considered if you decide to implement an intensive tutoring strategy.
- Tutors – Teachers certified in reading or math specialists are usually the most skilled at addressing the needs of students who are at-risk and multiple grades behind in one or more core subject areas. Paraprofessionals, trained volunteers, and peer-to-peer tutoring is less effective but can benefit some students if these tutors are provided with ongoing professional development, coaching support, and supervision.
- Student to Tutor Ratio – The research states that tutors should only work with 1 – 3 students at a time. This allows them to provide individualized and small group instruction to narrow the achievement gap and accelerate learning.
- Curriculum – Intensive and targeted tutoring is most effective when the curriculum is aligned to what students are expected to know and be able to do based on grade-level standards. Tutors will need to be skilled with using corrective instruction and the gradual release of responsibility to address skill gaps and content mastery.
- Professional Development and Supervision – School leaders and teachers must attend professional development to learn how to customize lesson plans to accelerate learning during intensive tutoring sessions. School leaders should observe tutoring sessions regularly to provide bite-sized actionable reflective feedback and coaching support.
- Target Population and Time – Students who are not meeting grade-level expectations in reading and/or math should be considered for intensive tutoring instruction. Tutoring sessions should be at least 1-hour, 3-4 times per week, and these services can take place during the school day and/or after school.
Parents Are Partners in Education
Let’s not forget about parent engagement and the partnership that must be nurtured to invite them into the process of supporting their child at home. School leaders and teachers should find ways to communicate effectively, efficiently, and often about classroom activities and lessons that they can use at home to mitigate learning loss and accelerate their child’s reading and/or math growth. Teachers can create a website page with a weekly blog that provides parent-friendly resources. School leaders can create parent workshops that teachers or outside experts deliver to equip parents with the knowledge and skills about reading and math instruction. Don’t forget that the best way to establish a positive relationship with your parents is to communicate when their child has done something positive and/or about improvements in student achievement.
These are evidence-based strategies that can be implemented to address the specific needs of your students and accelerate student achievement as we continue to work our way through this crisis in education.