As students returned to class in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic this year, many did not recognize their schools. Some came back to socially distanced classrooms and some to 100% online learning environments. Their initial reactions were not the only cause for concern, however. Experts fear that achievement disparities will be greater than expected and that catching up may be challenging. Even as we try to return to some sense of normalcy, can educators be doing more to help bridge the gap?
What We Know About Learning Loss
We have not seen an across-the-board disruption to schools quite like this in the recent past, but we do have research regarding learning loss. NWEA reminds educators that an annual "lag" in learning is the norm for many students, as the summer slide has been well documented. Studies also show that the students who make the most significant gains during the school year are often the ones who see the most setbacks during summer breaks.
Unfortunately, the school closures from COVID-19, paired with a summer break and delayed public school fall openings, could be more than educators are used to tackling. A total of six months without formal education could lead to what NWEA projects as a significant impact on math retention and mastery. Projections show less than 50% of expected learning achievements, with a full year of learning loss possible when compared to a traditional school year's gains.
What Can We Do?
If the news seems bad, it may help to look at the new opportunities we have to assess a child's achievement and set new learning goals. The NWEA recommends that policymakers and school administrators use new and existing data to guide the path forward because teachers cannot assume that students will need the same kind of reteaching and review they did when coming back from a typical summer. And the disruption in schools is just part of what everyone is dealing with; families are experiencing some major obstacles, including job loss, changes in health, isolation and an inability to maintain some of the more meaningful relationships during social distancing.
The move to more online learning will also require something special of educational leaders and curriculum developers. Students and families will need access to materials they can use even in times of school closures, resulting in new questions and discussions, as well as the need for strong leadership. As schools play catch-up and continue to address educational equality obstacles for ESL and special-needs learners, well-prepared educational leaders will be in high demand.
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