The disruption of education worldwide as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is undeniable. With schools being forcibly shut down, students have been left with significant gaps in their education. Students in grades K-12 are an average of 5 months behind in math and 4 months behind in English language arts. Although educational leaders, teachers, parents, and community stakeholders have worked tirelessly to fill in these gaps, the problem remains.
Question: How do we quickly and efficiently help these students catch up before their learning loss creates further issues in their educational careers?
Understanding Contributing Factors
Learning losses aside, students that experienced the pandemic suffered in countless other ways that are sure to have a direct impact on their education. For one, many students suffered losses of family members or loved ones. The emotional impact has left many students feeling devoid of intrinsic motivation. Another concern is that the rates of anxiety and depression amongst school-aged students have doubled due to the pandemic. What was already an alarming rate of youth affected has become a nationwide crisis. These resulting traumas have huge mental health implications that can drastically affect students’ interest in their education, attendance, and ability to learn.
Inequities Within The Gaps
Although it has been observed that the majority of students suffered significant learning loss during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were several groups of students that suffered far greater. Socio-economically disadvantaged students were less likely to be able to access remote learning due to a lack of technology, resources, and parental support. Strong parental support was one of the largest contributing factors to student success during remote learning.
Parents who were able to stay home and assist their children in the virtual learning experience had a significant advantage over families who were not able to do the same. Inevitable technology issues prevented many students from being able to attend classes daily. Most parents of lower SES families were required to work to survive the pandemic financially. In this way, the cycle of inequities was further perpetuated during this time and left students even more disadvantaged than before.
What Are The Long-Term Consequences?
Effects of the pandemic have the potential to spill out across the entire generation as we witness decreased educational achievement. Without intensive interventions, we are likely to see a significant drop in yearly earnings, increased incarceration rates, and largely reduced college graduation rates. There is a direct correlation between academic achievement and overall success. These lower levels of achievement will likely result in lowered economic productivity over the next two decades if not addressed properly. As the students of today progress towards adulthood, the call for action is increasingly more important to address.
What Are The Best Next Steps?
One approach that many educators have considered is spending extended time on remediation. Specifically, taking the time to catch students up by tracing their steps back to the prior year’s curriculum. For fourth graders, this would be teaching a third-grade level lesson. The problem with this strategy is that it further perpetuates the learning gap as a crucial time in their fourth-grade education is spent on lower-level standard mastery.
Similarly, socio-economically disadvantaged students are far more likely to be stuck on the remediation path with little to no chance of catching up to their peers of higher SES. More and more research is pointing us towards the success of acceleration rather than remediation.
Acceleration and Intensive Tutoring
With acceleration, educators are continuing with their student’s current grade level curriculum while including interjections of their prior year’s standards. With this strategy, students are being brought back up to baseline with provided support.
Another highly successful strategy to mitigate learning loss is by utilizing targeted and intensive tutoring. Assessment results should be used as a guiding force as educators attempt to identify the specific gaps students are experiencing. Classroom teachers should group students into no less than two but no more than four students for each tutoring session. This small group size further helps facilitate learning and increases motivation.
Students below grade level in both math and reading should receive priority when it comes to the targeted and intensive tutoring sessions. This strategy in conjunction with acceleration vastly improves the ability to fill in their learning gaps.
Assessments and Progress Monitoring
Increased frequency of assessment and intervention cycles can be another incredibly beneficial strategy to bring students up to grade level. The space between assessment cycles is larger than necessary, especially when actively working on closing learning gaps.
By frequently assessing students, either weekly or even monthly, we are provided with data that can guide us immediately rather than waiting until mid-year or the end of the year to understand where the gaps lie. This rapid intervention technique can close gaps at a higher rate and simultaneously allows educators to address both individual and whole class gaps.
Understanding the variety of options we have as educational leaders, teachers, and parents allows us to fine-tune the intervention tactics that will work best for our specific demographic of students. By employing some or all of the instructional strategies listed above, we can provide a sound support system for those affected by the learning loss acquired during the pandemic.
The instructional strategies and recommendations we provided in this article offer a great start for your school to address the challenges/crisis that has negatively impacted student achievement. However, disjointed tactics do not provide comprehensive, sustainable solutions for your teachers, students, and parents. School leaders must provide research-informed, professional development to accelerate learning and significantly close achievement gaps.
Schedule a free call to start working on a results-driven professional development and coaching support strategy with the Center for Student Achievement Solutions now.