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Learning Loss In The Time Of Coronavirus: An Update

education best practicesLearning Loss In The Time Of Coronavirus: An Update

January 25, 2021

"This is not a typical year. We could see an entire semester of learning disappear for millions of students! What will we do when we have students advancing to trigonometry when they have forgotten most of the algebra?"

We wrote this in an article in Summer 2020 on Learning Loss in the time of Coronavirus.

So what happened? Did we actually see evidence of learning loss?

Learning Loss (Re) Explained

First, a quick refresh on learning loss. Learning loss refers to the academic losses that occur when students are not, well, learning. A common example is the “summer slide” experienced over the months of summer break. Due to the absence of academic engagement, students often forget some of their previously learned material during this period.

With the move to Distance Learning and the stress and anxiety associated with the Coronavirus, experts argued we’d see a significant reduction in the amount of student learning. In our last article, we showed an NWEA model projecting a 30% learning loss in reading and a 50% loss in math due to what was termed “the COVID slide!”

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Experts asserted that the COVID slide would go beyond academic learning loss as well, with students missing opportunities to engage in social-emotional learning and relationship-building with their peers and teachers. It would particularly hurt students from lower-income families and under-resourced school districts, who suffer from a lack of access to technology and supplemental learning materials.

Did learning loss actually occur in the 2020-21 school year?

The quickest answer is that it’s too early to entirely tell. The repercussions of this period of learning will be felt for years to come. This is particularly the case for math, a subject in which future concepts build upon the foundation of past concepts. If students struggled to absorb Geometry or Algebra in 2020, they may continue to struggle with Trigonometry, Calculus, and beyond as a result.

The more immediate answer paints an unfortunately bleak picture. A recent McKinsey study found that [students on average [are] likely to lose five to nine months of learning by the end of this school year](https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-learning-loss-disparities-grow-and-students-need-help#). Students of color will bear the brunt of that learning loss, ending on average six to 12 months behind. This doesn’t touch on the significant negative mental and emotional impacts of COVID, with which you, the reader, likely have first-hand experience.

McKinsey notes that these learning loss numbers actually reflect an improvement from Spring 2020, during which the firm estimates students learned only 67 percent of the math and 87 percent of the reading that grade-level peers would typically have learned. School adaptation to remote learning in Fall 2020 was quite impressive, negating the worst expectations of learning loss, but the circumstances were so dire that no changes could have been fully enough.

How did educators respond to Covid learning loss?

In our past article, we showcased a number of EdTech learning tools and platforms that could help combat the COVID slide. What tools did educators use to tackle the issue?

McKinsey’s research indicates schools responded rapidly and effectively by providing the technology for students to learn more effectively remotely. The percentage of students who had access to learning devices and the internet rose 5-10% across the board, with the most dramatic rise coming from students of color.

McKinsey attributes this response with directly mitigating the worst-case scenarios of learning loss. Bravo, educators!

A path forward: how to combat learning loss

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McKinsey makes a bold argument that the best way to tackle 2020-21 Learning Loss is not through the adaptation of any one platform or technology, but rather by reimagining school systems altogether.

Their boldest recommendation? A $66B investment that would lead to 1-2 years of additional learning over the course of 1 year. The first tenet of that plan? 50 minutes of math tutoring daily for each student!

“These high-dosage programs are much more effective than low-dosage volunteer tutoring provided weekly or on an ad hoc basis… Broader research on tutoring finds that it has the greatest impact …. in math performance in later grades.”

Infographic about spending on high-intensity tutoring

At Yup, we’re proud to offer the type of high intensity, outcomes-focused 1:1 math tutoring that McKinsey recommends to combat learning loss. We look forward to continuing to partner with schools to find the best ways to increase student achievement and combat learning loss!

Yup for Schools brings math learning to students at scale. Get in touch here to learn more about how Yup is empowering students in this difficult time! Wondering how to explain the importance of math? Learn how in our free eBook here.


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