Learning loss is the term used to describe the decline in academic skills and knowledge over the summer months. This phenomenon is especially pronounced among low-income children, who are more likely to lack access to quality summer learning opportunities.
In addition, learning loss can have a cumulative effect, widening achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Administrators and educators should be informed about this growing phenomenon, including ways to mitigate and reduce its impact.
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to exacerbate existing disparities in academic achievement. Students from more affluent families can better take advantage of online learning opportunities and compensate for any potential learning loss.
On the other hand, low-income students may struggle to keep up with their peers due to a lack of resources at home. This disparity could lead to an even wider achievement gap in the coming years.
READ MORE: What can you do for learning loss right now?
Learning loss is often measured by the difference in academic achievement between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. Studies have found that, on average, students experience a decline in reading skills of about one month over the summer break. Math skills tend to be more impacted, with an average loss of two months’ progress.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic, learning loss was exacerbated.
The Education Recovery Scorecard comes from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) that can help communities track Learning Loss during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Scorecard provides a way to compare Learning Loss across different grades, subject areas, and student groups. It also includes a set of policy recommendations that can help mitigate learning loss and address disparities in academic achievement.
The recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that learning loss is a significant issue for students during the pandemic. In 2022, average scores for reading and mathematics declined by 5 points and 7 points, respectively, for 9-year-old students. This statistic is worrying news as it marks the largest decline in reading scores since 1990 and the first time that mathematics score averages have dropped.
The Education Recovery Scorecard found that learning loss was widespread among students in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the main points included:
According to Thomas Kane, Harvard Professor of Education and Economics, “The pandemic was like a band of tornadoes that swept across the country; some communities were left relatively untouched, while neighboring schools were devastated.” This impact is reflected in the study findings.
The median school district lost the equivalent of .52 grade equivalents in math and .23 in reading (approximately 52 percent and 23 percent of a year’s worth of achievement growth, respectively). However, there was some good news: 2.5 percent of students were in districts where math achievement rose.
5.3% of students were in districts where achievement fell by more than one grade level, while 14.8 percent increased a grade level or more in reading comprehension. In addition, 1.4 percent regressed in their abilities, losing more than one grade’s progress.
Districts with a higher percentage of students with free lunches experienced more significant learning loss than those with a lower rate of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
Some of the findings from the study include:
In math, on average, urban districts lost .65 grade equivalents while rural districts only lost .50 (and suburban districts lost .54). In reading, urban districts cities saw a loss of just .29 grade equivalents versus greater losses in rural (.33), suburban (.24) and town (.31) districts. [source]
The average district in the state was operating remotely for part of the 2020-21 school year. Therefore, researchers report data for all states, even if they have no data in the district-level dataset. In math, the fitted regression line implies a negative relationship between the change in a state’s mean achievement on the 4th and 8th-grade NAEP against the percent of districts that operated remotely.
Although it is not a perfect match, California, with the highest average closure rates, had smaller losses in math than most other states. There was little relationship between a state’s loss in mean achievement and its reading comprehension levels.
The research team also found that district-level factors such as the use of tutoring services, the intensity of remote instruction, and the average class size were not associated with changes in achievement.
One potential reason for this is that, while some schools did a great job of providing resources and adapting their instruction to meet the needs of students during the pandemic, others did not.
It is more expensive for districts to recover without spending money on effective outcomes.
There is some evidence that, for the highest-performing students, distance learning may have even had a positive effect.
Students who took the assessments were asked how confident they would be in monitoring their learning process if they needed to attend school from home. Higher-performing students would report more confidence in recognizing when they don’t understand something they are learning, ask for help when needed, and find online resources compared to their lower-performing peers.
Learning loss must be addressed in our schools, but we also must acknowledge that our schools have fundamentally changed. Here are a few new truths we must accept and address for learning loss.
Technology in the classroom needs to be integrated because it is here to stay in schools. Assessments are becoming increasingly digitized, and future careers will rely entirely on technology.
A few years ago, most schools’ main complaint was access to technology. It was difficult for classroom teachers to fully integrate technology because schools did not have 1:1 access to devices, and students needed uniform access to WiFi in the home. This is changing.
In a recent study from PowerSchool, educators found access to be less of an issue. Only 28% of teachers are concerned about student WiFi access, and 18% of educators worry about student access to devices.
Instead, the study finds that educators struggle with other aspects regarding tech in the classroom:
One of the biggest disconnects between classroom teachers and instructional leaders is technology integration. Teachers report wanting to prioritize the integration of new edTech tools, while district leaders want to improve assessments, reporting, and data. Educators can generate better data through assessment once the technology integration occurs in the everyday classroom routine.
Key Takeaway: Access to technology has improved in the classroom, but teachers need help to streamline and integrate tech into the classroom for a more seamless teaching experience.
The COVID-19 Pandemic exposed gaps in student mental health services in the schools, and Whole Child Learning and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has moved to the top of the priority list for many districts.
The data speaks for itself. Students’ mental health needs prioritization:
|THE PERCENTAGE OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS WHO:||2009||2019||% Increase|
Experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
Seriously considered attempting suicide
Made a suicide plan
Were injured in a suicide attempt that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse
Many at-risk students fall behind academically with learning loss, leading to even more significant mental health issues. Schools will face difficulty addressing these issues for a few reasons:
Key Takeaway: School districts must prioritize mental health with students through purposeful social-emotional learning. The best way to deliver this is through teachers who have relationships with students. Schools must address the strain on teachers’ time so that whole-child learning can happen on an ongoing basis.
The last decade of education has taught educators that data is valuable and there are infinite ways to collect data. There is a disconnect between school leaders and teachers on this. Over 80% of teachers believe in data’s usefulness in identifying needs and taking action.
The problem is that most teachers believe there needs to be more data and more ways for educators to synthesize it to make informed decisions in their classrooms. (Two out of three educators agree with the previous statement.)
There are two ways for teachers to make sense of data to inform decision-making in the classroom:
Key Takeaway: Teachers have difficulty incorporating data into the classroom because there’s too much data, and they can’t synthesize it. Make data more accessible to teachers.
In a 2022 study, 80% of districts report using a form of tiered instruction to address learning loss. Here’s what that typically looks like inside a school:
On paper, this is a fail-safe method for districts to employ. The problem is that the nation is grappling with widespread learning loss. We have large percentages of students going to tier two.
Tier one– classroom instruction— must be strengthened so fewer students go into the higher tiers.
Key Takeaway: The tiered instruction model is breaking down due to widespread learning loss. Many students require intervention and remediation. Addressing learning loss in the classroom can free resources for high-need students who need remediation and intervention. Teachers can leverage tech tools to do more during instruction time.
Teachers are the best professionals to address learning loss. They know their students, have strategies for addressing learning loss, and are on the frontline daily in schools. But the biggest issue facing learning loss is keeping the best and most experienced teachers in the field.
The numbers don’t lie, according to the National Education Associate (NEA):
As more teachers leave the field, the teacher shortage makes the work current teachers do more challenging. Teachers are forced to cover other classes by giving up their planning and study halls. Their ability to work with students one-on-one becomes diminished.
Key Takeaway: Teachers that stay in education are overworked from the ongoing teacher shortage. Districts need to provide support to teachers so that they can reduce teacher burnout.
Students are an average of 4-5 months behind in math in reading due to disrupted learning from the pandemic. On top of this, 35% of parents are concerned about their child’s mental health. Students all over the country face enormous odds, and school districts must take an active approach to address learning loss.
One popular method states and districts are leaning on is tutoring for learning loss. Many states, like Louisiana and Texas, are developing tutoring that happens within the school day. This requires pulling out students for tutoring, increasing staffing, and giving students high-dosage tutoring. By doing it within the school day, states find they have greater control. Students are already at school, and therefore they must attend.
This method seems like a no-brainer, but in today’s school conditions, school leaders will struggle to implement this model. Here are a few reasons why:
Key Takeaway: Districts need to prioritize tutoring for the most at-risk students. The rest of the students can benefit from classrooms running more efficiently. Teachers know their students best, and they can quickly address student deficiencies with data in the everyday classroom.
READ MORE: Tutoring For Learning Loss
READ MORE: Texas STAAR Tutoring For Learning Loss
The best way to address learning loss is to empower teachers with tools that will make them more effective in the classroom. Here’s how TeacherMade is addressing learning loss.
Teachers should be the first professionals addressing learning loss in schools. The problem is that teachers see less time in their day due to staffing issues and other strains on the school community.
By introducing productivity tools to teachers, classrooms will become more efficient:
When lessons run smoothly, you can get more accomplished in less time. This frees up classroom teachers’ time and lets them focus on what matters most– teaching and learning.
Assessment is changing. Your students are no longer measured with paper-and-pencil exams. State standardized tests ask your students to do more. With TeacherMade, you can embed formative assessments into your lesson or create assessments with over 20 different question types. We also give you access to next-generation question types like Match Table Grid and Coordinate Graphing.
So not only is it quick and easy to create assignments that address learning loss, you’re getting your students ready for standardized tests each day in your class.
If your data isn’t accessible to classroom teachers, it won’t get utilized. Teachers need data to make decisions and adjustments each day in the classroom.
With TeacherMade, our auto-grading features let teachers instantly gauge how students perform before, during, and after a lesson. Unlike traditional assessment tools, TeacherMade integrates assessment more naturally into everyday lessons.
The benefits of better data and student feedback in the classroom are endless: