Education Best Practices

Learning Loss in the Time of Coronavirus

How Schools, Educators, and Policymakers Can Combat the COVID Slide

Students and teachers across the U.S. are about to enter month three of distance learning. That’s a quarter of a year taking classes outside of a classroom. 60 school days spent learning at home. Despite best efforts, many are struggling to adapt to the current reality. Classes are now held over Zoom and assignments turned in through Google Docs. This much time away from structured academic environments has consequences. Educators, parents, and students are fearful of potential long-term learning impacts.

While these times are unprecedented, concern around seasonal learning loss is nothing new. Learning loss is an annual worry compounded by our global pandemic circumstances. As an education community, what should we do to combat Corona-related learning loss? What can we do? This issue is top of mind for educators, researchers, and policymakers, many of whom are proposing solutions.

Learning Loss Explained and Predicted

Before we dive into potential remedies, let’s refresh. What do we mean when we refer to the “summer slide” and its Coronavirus counterpart the “COVID slide?” “Summer slide” refers to the academic losses which occur over the months of summer break. Most students do not take summer school classes or engage with educational activities over break. Schools and families may not have the resources to offer summer learning resources to their students. In the LA Unified school district, summer school is only for “students who have failed courses or have been identified as needing intensive remediation.”

The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) is a Portland-based education organization. NWEA researchers have been hard at work predicting the possible outcomes of time spent out of the classroom due to COVID-19. Dr. Megan Kuhfeld and Dr. Beth Tarasawa looked at a sample of 5 million students who took MAP Growth assessments in the 2017-2018 school year. This sample helped them establish an average trajectory for growth in learning.

The researchers took this average trajectory and compared it against two projections. The first projection sees a “COVID-19 slide” resulting in “academic setbacks typical of summers throughout an extended closure.” The second sees a “COVID-19 slowdown” resulting in students retaining “the same level of academic achievement they had when schools were [first] closed.”

Dr. Kuhfeld and Dr. Tarasawa’s preliminary predictions? A worst-case scenario sees students returning to school in the fall with 70% of their learning gains intact for reading. Worse still, only 50% intact for mathematics. They note that “declines tend to be steeper for math than for reading,” which may account for the wide range between the two subject areas.

The COVID Slide

“What summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement.”

It’s important to note that students aren’t only losing learning in an academic sense. They’re also missing opportunities to engage in social-emotional learning and relationship-building with their peers and teachers. It’s also necessary to remember that the COVID slide will hit some families and communities harder than others. Students from lower-income families and under-resourced school districts disproportionately suffer from lack of access to technology and supplemental learning materials. Coronavirus exacerbates this digital divide.

Potential Remedies for Learning Loss

Many educators, students, and parents are going above and beyond to adapt and make the most of distance learning. That doesn’t make the learning curve easier to overcome. Nor does it guarantee that students will return the next academic year with most of their learning retained. How can we start combatting the COVID slide with so much uncertainty around when students will step into a classroom again? What will we do when closures and restrictions begin lifting? Several educators, policymakers, and the NWEA researchers have proposed recommendations.

Access to Technology

The NWEA recommends targeted investments to help narrow the digital divide, “providing increased access to the internet and technology…so school leaders and educators can address more nuanced instructional challenges like differentiation, accessibility, and special education needs.” In other words, we must invest in accessible technology and programs for all students. For example, the New Orleans Parish School Board approved emergency funding to support the purchase of wireless hotspots and laptops for students without reliable access to learning technology.

If there isn’t assistance available from the state and district level, many national internet providers are making their services free or subsidized for low-income families and students. Here’s a roundup of the top providers and information for gaining internet access.

Summer School

Chances are that if you ask a student about summer school, they may respond unfavorably. Why would I want to go to school during my break? When you bring it up with parents, there are worries concerning remediation and their students falling behind. It’s sometimes derided as punishment! The truth is, summer learning programs can be impactful, enriching, and fun. Free, widely-accessible summer school and activities are going to be necessary for keeping learning loss from worsening.

Whether implemented at a district level or offered through private institutions, all students will benefit from more structured education ahead of a return in the fall.

At-Home Enrichment

Major education companies across the country responded swiftly to school closures and made their resources available online for free and reduced-cost. Here’s a roundup of over a dozen learning supplements serving students in Kindergarten through college in all core subjects. Highlights include:

When Will School Come Back?

It’s unclear at this point when the new school year will start or if summer school can take place in person. California’s government remains hopeful for a 2020-2021 academic school year that starts early in July, with students returning to classrooms after six months away. New York Times science and health reporter Donald G. McNeil predicts that schools may begin experimenting with reduced class sizes and staggered scheduling. Half of a student body may spend two weeks at school while the other half learns at home. Then, they will switch in the following weeks.

It’s too early to tell what will happen across the United States, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on implications for learning. Though it can be difficult to find light in the darkness as we experience a global hardship, there is an opportunity here: the chance to rethink modern education and invest in more equitable programs and solutions for all.

Yup for Schools brings math help to students at scale. Get in touch here to learn more about how Yup is empowering students in this difficult time!

Luisa Isbell
Content Manager