What Is Learning Loss?

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.

Learning Loss

Guide to Learning Loss

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.

Various factors can contribute to learning loss, such as extended school breaks, disruptions from natural disasters, and lack of access to educational resources at home. These disparities can lead to wider achievement gaps over time.


What Is The Education Recovery Scorecard?

The Education Recovery Scorecard, developed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), helps communities track learning loss and recovery over time. Initially created to measure the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student learning, the Scorecard now serves as a broader tool for assessing educational progress across different grades, subject areas, and student groups.

The Scorecard provides a way to compare learning loss and recovery, highlighting variations and identifying areas where targeted interventions can be most effective. It also includes a set of policy recommendations designed to mitigate learning loss and address disparities in academic achievement.

Recent findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) underscore the significance of learning loss. For example, in 2022, average scores for reading and mathematics for 9-year-old students declined by 5 points and 7 points, respectively. This marks the largest decline in reading scores since 1990 and the first recorded drop in average mathematics scores.

This data emphasizes the need for continued focus on educational recovery and the implementation of effective strategies to support student learning and achievement.

What Are The Key Findings of the Education Recovery Scorecard?

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:

  • Achievement losses varied dramatically among districts in the same state.
  • In wealthier districts, the losses were not as significant.
  • In general, larger schools in more populated areas had greater losses than smaller schools in less populated areas.
  • For the 2020-21 school year, students in districts where instruction was primarily remote lost more academic progress than those in districts with less time spent in remote learning.
  • School closures are not the main reason for decreases in academic performance.
  • The percentage of the annual instructional budget associated with lost achievement is, in some districts, greater than the percentage received from federal ARP ESSER funding.

Achievement Losses Were Not Uniform Among States Or Districts

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.

Losses Were Greater In High-Poverty And Low-Income Districts

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 grades 3-8, the average U.S. public school student saw a decrease in reading and math skills by half a year and a quarter, respectively.
  • Parents and local officials should understand how their local schools were affected rather than rely on headlines about state achievement. For example, six percent of students were in districts that had spent over one year learning math. Three percent were in districts where math achievement rose. 
  • The achievement gap between high and low-poverty schools increased during the pandemic. For example, schools with the highest proportions of students receiving free or reduced lunch missed two-thirds of a year’s worth of math learning. In contrast, those attending schools with fewer low-income students only fell behind by two-fifths over the same period.

Urban Districts See The Highest Losses In Math

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]

Districts That Spent More Time In Remote Instruction Frequently Saw More Achievement Loss

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.

Other Factors Can Contribute To Learning Loss

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.

High-Performing Students Did Better With Remote Learning

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.

Going Forward With Learning Loss: Truths We Must Accept And Address For Success

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. 

Tech Is Here To Stay In The Classroom

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:

  • 46% of educators worry about juggling multiple digital tools for learning and teaching

  • 37% of educators lack time to use technology effectively during the school day

  • 32% of educators struggle to integrate new edtech tools into 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.

Whole Child Approach And Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Is A Priority

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: 

Experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
40% increase
Seriously considered attempting suicide
36% increase
Made a suicide plan
44% increase
Attempted suicide
41% increase
Were injured in a suicide attempt that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse
31% increase


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:

  1. Schools are not equipped with enough mental health professionals to address immediate needs.
  2. Schools are attempting to combat learning loss with 1:1 tutors (we’ll dive into that more below), and this additional instruction time can contribute to anxiety and depression in students
  3. Schools are understaffed and facing teacher shortages, so your first line of defense for mental health intervention is strained. Schools must find ways to retain teachers and improve job quality to have their most crucial child advocates working directly with students and forming meaningful relationships. 

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. 

Data-Informed Decision Making Is Possible For All Stakeholders

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:

  1. Teachers must be included in data analysis from the top down. This means that data analysis that occurs with district leaders needs to include teachers. 
  2. Teachers need to take a more active role in designing measurable formative assessments in the classroom using tech tools that gather data on student progress. 

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. 

Tiered Instruction Will Replace Response To Intervention (RTI)

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:

  1. A student receives instruction from their classroom teacher. Teachers gather data from assessments and measure mastery. 
  2. From there, differentiation or remediation occurs. This often looks like a different practice activity or even a reteaching activity.
  3. Formal remediation occurs if growth isn’t occurring after the first two tiers. 

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. 

Educators Are Pushed To A Breaking Point Due To Teacher Shortages

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): 

  • 55% of educators say they are ready to leave the profession
  • 74% of teachers report that they have to take over other staff member’s responsibilities due to the shortage

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. 

Tutoring For Learning Loss Is Resource Heavy

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:

  • Teaching and staff shortage: Districts are already struggling to staff their current schools with their typical staff. Adding tutors who are skilled enough to address learning loss is a big ask for many communities. 
  • Learning loss is too widespread: Learning loss is so widespread that entire school populations would need to attend tutoring. Then it becomes a classroom.

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

How To Address Learning Loss In Schools And Classrooms

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 And Students Can Get More From Each Class Period And Increase Student Engagement

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:

  • TeacherMade is an all-in-one tool that creates interactive presentations and assignments.
  • Teachers don’t have to toggle between apps and risk losing student engagement.

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. 

READ MORE: Choose a presentation platform that does more than Google Slides.

Create Authentic Assessments That Measure Student 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. 

READ MORE: Shannon used TeacherMade to create self-paced learning in her classroom to address learning loss. 

Use Data And Student Feedback To Measure Progress

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:

  • Identify struggling students so you can focus time and resources on the right students
  • Include parents and other stakeholders in the process sooner
  • Collaborate with co-teachers with a greater view of student data
  • Adjust lessons each day to teach students where they are and address learning loss

READ MORE: Learning Loss And Formative Assessment Strategy

Contact us to learn more about TeacherMade, and how it empowers teachers to do more. 

We have flexible pricing plans.