Accelerating to Address Unfinished Learning

learningAccelerating to Address Unfinished Learning

October 4, 2021

The Extended “Summer Slide” of 2020

Educators have long recognized the “Summer Slide,” the seemingly-inevitable pause in students’ reading and math growth that comes each year when schools close for the warmer months. So when the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person learning for the vast majority of U.S. students in March, 2020, it was not hard to predict that students’ academic growth was likely to stall. A recent report released by McKinsey & Company adds some sobering statistics to describe this reality. Analyzing student achievement data from Spring, 2021 compared against historical data, the report calculates that students missed out on an average of four months of reading growth over the course of the disrupted school year, with most of that harm done during the initial scramble to react to remote learning from March to June of 2020. And the news was even worse for our country’s budding mathematicians, who effectively missed out on five months of growth.

The Peril of “Unfinished Learning” in Math

The report describes this as “Unfinished Learning,” a phrase that has gained traction in education circles of late because it recognizes the important reality that kids are more than capable of accelerating to recover from disruptions in their schooling when equipped with the right tools. Creating the conditions for such accelerated learning has never been more important, and it may be most urgent for math learners. Tim Truitt, a Senior Content Specialist with edrepots.org, argues that unfinished learning in math stands to cause greater long-term harm for students than reading delays if not addressed quickly and intentionally. Given how math standards are structured, Truitt argues, “unfinished learning is particularly dangerous in math where students might not have the opportunity to encounter specific concepts or skills once they pass from one grade level to the next.”

Persistent and Widening Inequality

The needs of the moment feel even more urgent when we consider the historical injustices experienced by students of color that have only been compounded by the global pandemic. Indeed, the McKinsey & Company report confirms what has become distressingly predictable: “Students in majority-Black schools ended the school year six months behind in both math and reading, while students in majority-white schools ended up just four months behind in math and three months behind in reading.” Similarly, the report documented gaps between students from low-income schools and high-income schools.

Students walking in outdoor hallway

An Opportunity for “Acceleration”

While the data regarding unfinished learning during the pandemic is bleak, the clear need has also generated numerous innovations, many of which are predicted to endure after the pandemic has ended. If schools emerge from the 2020-21 experience with plans to return to “business as usual,” they will be doing their students a great disservice. Consider the pre-pandemic findings of a comprehensive study conducted by TNTP. The research team observed over 1,000 lessons, 5,000 assignments, and 20,000 student work samples across a diverse set of schools and reached the troubling conclusion that students “spent more than 500 hours per school year on assignments that weren’t appropriate for their grade...the equivalent of six months of wasted class time in each core subject.” And the story for historically underserved communities was even worse, as “students from higher-income backgrounds spent twice as much time on grade-appropriate assignments.”

If schools are to support students to accelerate their learning, they cannot return to this pre-pandemic reality. Nor can they embrace the comfortable but wrongheaded strategy of remediation, which Suzy Pepper Rollins has argued stems from “the misconception that for students to learn new information, they must go back and master everything they missed.” Instead, Rollins and other champions of acceleration propose that the most powerful instruction puts students in a position to master their grade-level standards by delivering “just-in-time” supports exactly when students need them. “In acceleration,” Shalinee Sharma, CEO of Zearn, points out, “you do teach previous grade level content. You’re just teaching it in the context of what they’re learning now.” And it works! A joint study conducted by Zearn and TNTP found that in classrooms that employed strategies for acceleration, students engaged with 27% more grade-level content than in classrooms stuck on the traditional remediation model. While the study found that the positive difference was even greater in classrooms with students of color in the majority, students of color were still more likely to be placed in remedial classes, even when they matched the academic performance of white peers.

Yup’s Role in Supporting Acceleration

Acceleration may be the clear solution to the problem of unfinished learning, but schools will need support to implement it effectively. That’s where Yup’s Math learning support system is ready to help. When “just-in-time” supports are called for, Yup has the power to connect students—at the click of a button—to the best and brightest tutors available for personalized, practice-based sessions. Yup’s expert math tutors are trained to assess prior knowledge, diagnose misunderstandings, and offer the “just-in-time” supports necessary to push students toward enduring conceptual understandings of the grade-level standards that all students deserve the opportunity to master.

Student smiling in front of blackboard

Administrators: See how Yup’s services accelerate Math learning. Yup will collaborate with leadership teams to integrate High Dosage Tutoring into the school day and curriculum.

Teachers: Check out what other educators are saying about Yup.

Contact partnerships@yup.com to learn more about bringing Yup to your school or district.


School hallway

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