The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified both the impacts of learning loss and the importance of our schools’ ability to protect against it. The academic setbacks of the 2020/21 school year and subsequent learning recovery interventions make clear just how important it is for schools to ensure that students are able to keep pace.
Undoubtedly, various forms of learning loss will continue to present challenges in the school years to come. Political and social conflict and the increasing frequency of severe weather events may continue to interrupt learning. In addition to preexisting causes of learning loss such as chronic absenteeism and the “summer slide,” the annual learning loss that occurs over summer break. By putting a long term plan in place to future-proof against learning loss now, schools can be confident in their preparedness for the challenges to come.
Increasing visibility into where each student is in their learning is the first order of business. Schools can only begin to address learning loss once they have an understanding of where student learning gaps exist. To that end, thorough student data collection and analysis is essential.
Testing is just the beginning. Additional methods of student comprehension evaluation such as formative assessments can reveal a more complete and nuanced picture of learning loss. In fact, experts recommend formative assessments as the first step to learning recovery. Student comprehension data collected through check-ins, questionnaires, polls, mini quizzes, and self assessments can further illuminate learning gaps.
Technology plays a major supporting role in the collection and analysis of student data. One of the most impactful things schools can do to future-proof against learning loss is to secure education technology that delivers real-time visibility into student learning to reveal and address learning gaps as they arise. With lesson delivery software like Promethean’s ClassFlow, teachers can conduct a wide variety of quick and easy formative assessments to gauge student comprehension at the individual or class level in the moment of learning.
Looking at formative assessment insights in tandem with class participation and attendance data, student engagement metrics, and student academic performance will give educators a holistic understanding of where intervention is needed and which approach will be most effective. Putting the tools and processes in place for improved visibility into learning gaps will empower schools to make informed decisions about their learning loss prevention plans.
Addressing Absenteeism at the Source
Improving attendance is among the top things schools can do to prevent learning loss. Absenteeism worsened during the pandemic, but the problem predates COVID-19 and continues to challenge schools nationwide. In Detroit, absenteeism is among the district’s biggest issues: over half of Detroit public school students have struggled with chronic absenteeism since school started this year. And in Cleveland, nearly half of students have been chronically absent.
The ongoing pandemic continues to negatively impact attendance, but there are other factors at play. Lack of transportation to school or having to stay home to care for a younger sibling are among the top reasons students miss school. Marginalized communities often have a higher rate of absenteeism. For example, in California, Black students have a much higher rate of unexcused absences than their white peers. Overall the absentee rate of students of color exceeds that of white students. Identifying the causes that underlie absenteeism is the first step schools can take towards addressing it.
Attendance Works, a leading national organization committed to reducing student absenteeism, recommends “whole school” supports including student access to food and basic needs, access to tech equipment and connectivity, student and family engagement, in school community building, and more. By improving attendance by addressing absenteeism at the source, schools can dramatically reduce learning loss.
Remote Learning Infrastructure
Establishing alternatives to in-person learning gives schools the flexibility to shift to distance learning if needed. If there is inclement weather such as a blizzard, for example, a remote learning environment can allow students to participate in the class online via video to prevent learning interruptions. Another example is if a student is experiencing a prolonged illness, they could have the option to learn remotely from home without disrupting their progress and growth for the school year.
What’s important here is that every student has the resources they need for successful learning in a blended environment. The digital divide must be addressed. 42 million Americans lack broadband internet access and approximately one in four students are unable to access school online. Continued school and government support to ensure internet access, a computer, and a safe, comfortable, distraction-free place to learn from will be essential to the prevention of future learning loss.
The pandemic forced schools to stand up remote learning solutions on the fly. Now districts have the opportunity to refine distance learning for improved remote education experiences. As schools transition from makeshift arrangements to long term solutions, remote learning tools like Promethean’s distance learning bundle can help schools move toward seamless user experiences. Ongoing teacher training will also help to advance schools’ remote learning capabilities to ensure future preparedness.
Prioritize Student Well-Being
The disruptions that cause learning loss are also often the source of emotional distress for students. This emotional distress compounds learning loss: not only are students left to make up the work they missed, they are tasked with doing so under emotionally trying circumstances, which makes learning recovery even more challenging.
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs will prove to be a critical part of schools’ strategies to mitigate learning loss. Research has shown that SEL interventions improve academic outcomes by helping students manage mental health issues, supporting positive attitudes about school, and boosting self esteem. Recognizing the link between students’ well-being and their academic success, future-ready schools will integrate SEL into their learning loss prevention strategies.
Equipping students with the social-emotional skills they need will help them more successfully navigate difficult times, making future challenges less disruptive to their learning. When students’ emotional wellbeing is supported, students will have the opportunity to live up to their full academic potential.
Build Foundational Skills
Future-proof the students themselves against learning loss by focusing education on the foundational skills that matter most. Teaching students how to think critically and collaborate effectively—versus rote memorization of facts and dates—will make them more adaptable and equip them with the tools they need to succeed beyond the classroom. This widely applicable skill set will also help students be able to more easily jump into new materials, minimizing the effects of interrupted learning.
Flexible, personalized learning allows students to move through materials at their own pace. If a student’s learning is interrupted, that student will have the option to pick up where they left off, rather than getting left behind. Personalized learning experiences are engineered for greater student engagement than a traditional one-size-fits-all-approach. Personalized learning also allows students to spend more time on the subject matter that challenges them most. This flexibility grants students the latitude they may need to address a learning gap, while also empowering them to do so on their own terms.
A proliferation of technology designed to support personalized learning makes implementing a personalized approach easier than ever before. Building flexibility into school curriculum through a personalized learning approach will make schools more accommodating and resilient in the face of shifting student circumstances. Learn more about personalized learning.
Acceleration Over Remediation
When addressing learning loss, consider acceleration rather than remediation. Traditional remediation focuses on reviewing missed content—for example if a student misses a week of school, they would go back and cover the content with the student until they’ve achieved mastery of it. But research suggests that this approach may do more harm than good and can actually drive further education inequities.
An alternate approach, acceleration, prioritizes students focusing on the current content at hand, with additional support provided as needed in the moment of learning. The teacher builds the core concepts of missed content into the current lesson, rather than having students go backwards to engage with those learnings. Moving to an acceleration-focused approach to learning loss may result in more equitable outcomes for students over the long term.
When it comes to protecting against learning loss, schools may find themselves at an advantage: Many of the COVID-19 related learning recovery interventions they are currently putting in place are the same programs that will protect against learning loss in the future. Building on these learnings, schools have the opportunity to formalize a future-forward plan and ensure that every student has an opportunity to succeed. The pandemic caught schools off guard. With a long term learning loss future proofing plan, schools can be better prepared going forward.
Read the other blogs in our series on learning loss: