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Creating Strategies to Address and Recover from Learning Loss in Your School

"Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today."
Malcolm X

While the past year showed how school districts could rise to the challenges of helping students access remote learning, studies are showing that it simply wasn’t as effective as learning in a classroom setting (Chen, Dorn, Sarakatsannis, and Wiesinger, 2021). We know that learning gains and knowledge retention is significantly reduced for students in remote learning settings, and while the full extent isn’t known yet, research indicates that students may return with fewer than 50 percent of the learning gain in math and 70 percent in reading compared to a typical school year (Kuhlfeld and Tarasawa, 2020).

As students return to school for the 2021-2022 year, for many, this is the first time they are entering a classroom in 16 months, and now schools are facing the challenge of how to ensure students catch up. To help you determine a path forward to best serve your students, our strategic planning company is sharing tips on how to create strategies to address and recover from learning loss in your school.

Understanding Learning Loss

The concept of “learning loss” is nothing new as it refers to how students lose knowledge and skills due to a gap or continuity in their education. Traditionally, educators saw this after summer breaks in which the first few weeks of school are spent reviewing and relearning information students learned the previous year. To a lesser extent, winter holidays and spring break sees learning loss, too.

However, the past 18 months brings a different challenge to schools because there is no consistency in the learning loss students experienced. For example, students who had consistent access to a laptop or tablet and internet as well as a quiet place in which to attend their class and study along with a parent or caregiver available to assist most likely received the same quality of education as pre-pandemic. Students who were sharing technology, experienced inconsistent access to the internet, and had minimal assistance from caregivers were more likely to struggle to learn. Often, these students were already vulnerable due to being a part of a marginalized population (Dorn, Hancock, Sarakatsannis, and Viruleg 2020), so the learning loss would be particularly concerning. Even students who had the benefits listed above may have experienced trauma from losing a loved one, the riots over the past year, as well as depression or anxiety, all of which can affect learning.

Why Addressing Learning Loss Should Be a Secondary Priority

While schools are looking at ways to address the gaps in learning and slowed gains in progress, studies are showing that how the issue is addressed can determine the success of students moving forward. Former teacher and education expert, Ron Berger, warns districts against the inclination to “quantify learning loss” through diagnostic tests and assessments as these can lead to long-term equality issues as students are separated into remediation. Even more troubling is that this method can compound or worsen the mental health challenges students dealt with over the past 18 months as they are pushed into testing or cycled into remediation, causing loss of engagement and confidence.

Instead, education experts recommend schools focus more on two specific areas:

  1. Working closely with teachers to see how students are recovering and gaining ground to determine where or if remediation is necessary to address learning loss in individual students.
  2. Building relationships with students and providing an atmosphere of support in order to rebuild confidence, trust, and overcome trauma experienced over the past 18 months (Cantor, et. al. 2020).

With this insight, your school or district will have a better understanding of how to implement a successful strategy that will make the best impact for students from both a developmental and educational perspective.

How to Create a Strategic Plan to Recover from Learning Loss

While you are facing a variety of challenges as the school year begins, consider using these tips to create a strategic plan on how to address and recover from learning loss.

Identify Macro Issues Your School Is Facing

While every student had a different experience over the last 18 months, it’s important to address issues that a majority of your students faced and how those could affect learning. An educator shortage, an increase in poverty among students, or high losses due to COVID-19 are factors that will affect a majority of your students. Identifying and addressing the issues will help direct your strategy.

Identify the Challenges Facing Individual Students to Find Trends

Surveys are an excellent tool to determine the specific challenges your students are facing and gain insight into what they need from their school and their teachers. Ask a blend of multiple choice and open-ended questions as well as ones that pertain to both the previous year and the upcoming year. For example, consider asking students:

  • How did you attend school during 2020-2021?
  • How confident are you about being able to keep up with your curriculum?
  • Do you have a supportive caregiver to assist you with classwork?
  • How do you access the internet when you are not in school?
  • What challenges do you anticipate this school year?
  • What are your goals for this upcoming school year?
  • What do you want your school to understand about the challenges you faced during the past year?

The answers you receive to these questions will help you understand students’ experiences and learn how to make the classrooms more equal despite the differences faced over the past year.

Consider Your Resources

In addition to determining what students and teachers need, you need to determine how your school can meet those needs with your resources. Some schools may be able to tap into an engaged parent organization who can provide in-school tutoring and support time while others may leverage staff attrition to add temporary teachers and tutors with experience in reading and math to help provide interventions. Other schools may shift to a block-style of schedule that allows teachers more time to catch up on learning during the beginning of the year without overwhelming students who are getting back into traditional learning.

Work with a Strategic Planning Expert

Your school may want to work with a strategic planning expert who can help you determine and set goals, create an action plan necessary to achieve them, as well as mobilize the resources to implement the action plan. With their assistance, your school will be on one page with a plan in place to best serve the needs of all your students.

Contact Woodland Strategies to Discuss Re-imagining Your Nonprofit’s Strategic Vision

We know you are facing multiple challenges this school year. With strategic planning from Woodland Strategies, we can help you focus on your priorities and create strategies that will benefit your students beyond academics. To learn more about how we can assist your school or to set up a consultation, reach out to us today via our contact form.

Kuhlfeld, Megan, Tarasawa, Beth. The COVID-19 Slide: What Summer Learning Loss Can Tell Us About the Impact of School Closures on Student Academic Achievement. Collaborative for Student Growth (April 2020). Accessed online 8/25/2021. Chen, Li-Kai, Dorn, Emma, Sarakatsannis, Jimmy, and Wiesinger, Anna. Teacher Survey: Learning Loss is Global - and Significant. McKinsey & Company (March 2021) Accessed online 8/25/2021. Dorn, Emma, Hancock, Bryan, Sarakatsannis, Jimmy, and Viruleg, Ellen. COVID-19 and Learning Loss - Disparities Grow and Students Need Help. McKinsey & Company (December 2020). Accessed online 8/25/2021. Cantor, Pamela, Darling-Hammond, Linda, et. al. How the Science of Learning and Development Can Transform Education. Science of Learning and Development Alliance (May 2020). Accessed online 8/25/2021

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