Combating Learning Loss

  • Posted By: Ahladini Veerina
  • March 17, 2021

What is learning loss?

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of life, and one of the most significant impacts has been on education, especially for K-12 students. The disruption to education in the early days of the pandemic and the continued disruption over a year later has had a serious impact on student learning.The phrase “learning loss” has become ubiquitous—but what exactly does it mean? According to the Glossary of Education Reform, “[l]earning loss refers to any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or to reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuities in a student’s education.”

The idea of learning loss is nothing new. The summer slide, a well-documented subject of research within education, refers to the learning loss that occurs specifically during summer break. Summer slide research has been crucial in predicting how changes in learning will affect students in our new paradigm. A study from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) used research on summer slide to predict that students would return to school in the fall of 2020 with 70% of the reading gains and 50% of the math gains of a typical school year.

Other studies predicted even less optimistic outcomes. One study projected that students would likely return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the reading gains and 37-50% of the math gains of a typical school year. A study by McKinsey and Company found that students started school in the fall of 2020, on average, a month and half behind in reading and three months behind in math. The same study projected that students could be, on average, five to nine months behind overall by the end of the 2020-21 school year, and these losses are significantly more pronounced for students of color relative to white students.

It is important to note that the summer slide is applicable to all students, while learning loss due to the pandemic is extremely variable and is affecting each student differently, some more than others. Students of color and low-income students, who came into the pandemic in an already disadvantaged position, are likely to experience greater levels of learning loss than their more privileged peers (McKinsey & Company, YouthTruth Survey, Harvard, RAND). The varied effect of the pandemic on different students informs how this issue should be approached and how students should be supported both at a macro level and a more micro level.

What exactly is being lost?

One of the biggest barriers to learning right now is the lack of necessary resources. These include not only learning-specific materials, like computers, books, and supplies, but other resources, such as consistent meals, mental health care, and after-school support. A significant number of students, in particular students from marginalized low-income communities and communities of color, rely on their schools for these necessities, and as a result, are being more adversely affected (McKinsey & Company, YouthTruth Survey).

A large body of developing research shows that one of the worst effects the pandemic has had on kids is on their mental health (Edutopia, JAMA). Students have reported increasing levels of anxiety, depression, and stress as barriers to their learning (EdWeek, YouthTruth Survey). Again, this finding was more pronounced in students of color, as well as students that identified as non-masculine.

In terms of academics, overall, students’ math skills are being affected more substantially than their reading and writing skills (NWEA, Review of Educational Research, RAND). However, younger students in kindergarten through second grade are at greater risk of losing reading skills. A study from Amplify Education found that 40% of first graders and 35% of second graders this year (up from 27% and 29%, respectively, last year) likely need “intensive intervention” to bring those skills up to standard. While math skills are more at risk overall, and reading skills are more at risk for younger students, each student has different strengths and weaknesses, which is important to keep in mind.

How do we support students?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs illustrates the five fundamental needs that individuals require to achieve self-actualization, or becoming the best version of themselves. These include physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, and esteem. These needs make up a foundation that students build upon to develop their higher order needs, like relationships with others and themselves, and short- and long-term goals (academic and otherwise). This theory is paramount to understanding how to approach and support our students, particularly right now. During the pandemic, many of the foundational needs that students need to be able to thrive have been put to the test and deserve our attention.

As previously mentioned, mental health has been greatly impacted this year—and not just among school-aged children but among our communities as well. This needs our consideration and compassion, so that we can support ourselves and those around us. To help support students, some schools are offering online and even in-person counseling services for students. There is also a growing trove of mental health and emotional support resources online, many for free. Sites like TalkSpace, TeenCounseling, and 7cups offer a variety of ways to talk with a counselor, such as messaging, audio calls, and video calls.

In regards to supporting students with academics, learning needs to be highly personalized because of the nature of learning loss right now. Each student has different needs, learning styles, and skill sets. Because of this, educators and other adults supporting students need to understand and consider how they learn, as well as empower students to figure out how they learn best as well. Facilitating more self-directed learning not only enriches and personalizes learning, it also gives students autonomy of their experience.

Additionally, the focus of learning should be on high-quality, consistent learning experiences, rather than attempting to replace all the time missed from school. These learning experiences come in many different forms, but the important component is to establish a sustainable schedule of valuable learning activities. Learning should also be balanced with other activities, such as sports and performance arts, to help students maintain focus while learning.

Test Innovators’ tools can help

Our online platform gains insights into students’ knowledge and skills to provide personalized learning experiences. While our platform was created with test preparation in mind, our curriculum-aligned materials serve as a learning resource that benefits students far beyond test prep.

Our data-driven system provides a detailed analysis of student performance in math and language arts, right down to the specific subtype. This data-based understanding allows students to identify the exact areas they need to work on, which facilitates targeted learning. In connection with that, as students work through the materials on our platform, the system will generate suggestions for things to work on that are tailored specifically to the student. Our system gives students the tools to take ownership of their learning.

Our mission is to support students and to help them grow. If you're a parent/guardian or educator looking for support, please don't hesitate to contact our team to learn more about how we can help.