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Will K-12 Students Experience a COVID-19 Learning Loss?

July is typically the time of year where K-12 students are settling into their summer routines and schools are beginning preparationgs for the upcoming academic year. Teachers would have handed out summer learning packets to their incoming students while others begin their summer reading requirements. This may have been the case in previous years, but this year is different. Across the U.S. some states are considering opening early, in July, to curb a COVID-19 spike and "learning loss."

Due to continued cases of COVID-19, many school districts are struggling to find the best plan for the 2020-2021 academic year. The three most common school opening options are: in-person, remote or a hybrid variation. 

Unlike the decisive closure of schools nationwide in March, reopening schools has posed some interesting challenges. In March, there was an understanding that COVID-19 was becoming prominent in the United States and most school districts recognized this. The shift to remote learning was something widely accepted across the country for the protection of students, teachers, and school staff. 

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When it comes to reopening, school districts are still waiting to see if COVID-19 cases are still on the rise in their state, or how best to implement safe reopening protocols for students and teachers. In a recent survey by the School Superintendents Association, 94% of superintendents nationwide indicated they were not ready to announce when their schools will reopen or resume in-person instruction. The delayed reopening plans brings about a new fear: are students bound to experience significant learning loss? 

Learning Loss for K-12 Students

Learning loss, often specific to the summer months, 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,” according to the Education Glossary

During summer break, most schools focus on making sure students are behind academically are able to catch up to their peers. Schools also have some required summer work for students (whether that be a packet from their new teacher or summer reading assignments). Assigning work during the summer months is the most common way that schools combat learning loss. 

Learning loss is often defined in two stages: a summer slide or a summer slowdown. A summer slide refers to a large loss of educational material while a summer slowdown is where students retained their knowledge completely or lost only some of it.

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During a typical year, students often experience some sort of learning loss over the summer months. Research on learning loss varies based on grade level and subject, but learning loss can be as much as two to three months (a summer slide) or as little as two weeks (a summer slowdown), according to the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

Either way, the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) estimates that 9 in 10 teachers spend at least three weeks re-teaching lessons at the start of the school year. Due to COVID-19 school closures, the estimated learning loss over the summer may be greater than previous years. 

COVID-19 Impacts on Students 

Most schools across the nation closed abruptly in March, leaving teachers with little time to prepare for a transition to remote learning. It is without a doubt that teacher’s did their best under the circumstances to make sure their lessons remained on track, but students still struggled to retain information virtually. 

All students had a different experience when it came to shifting to remote lessons. It is clear that students will require additional support when schools begin again, but just how much is uncertain. The NWEA says that missing school for a prolonged period will likely have major impacts on student achievement. 

Responding to COVID-19 Learning Loss

Preliminary COVID slide (similar to a summer slide) estimates suggest students will return in fall 2020 with only about 70% of reading gains and less than 50% of mathematics gains relative to a typical school year, according to the NWEA.  

To combat learning loss, some schools are reopening in July in order to get students caught up before the school year starts. Many schools in New Orleans (60%) are planning to have summer school. New Jersey schools were allowed to open on July 6 to hold in-person summer educational programs including an extended school year and special education programs. Governor Newsom of California considered returning to school in July specifically to minimize learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Teachers will be fighting the temptation to reteach information to try and catch students up, but that may be hurtful in the long run. The only way to recover from a large learning loss gap is to keep moving forward and reteach parts students seem to be stuck on. By focusing on the current curriculum, teachers will be able to make more progress with their students. 

COVID-19 has brought attention to the achievement gap that has been expanding for decades. “Every summer, districts send students home for months without instruction, enrichment, childcare and-- largely-- without food,” Nick Melvoin wrote in an article titled Preventing Learning Loss Requires Long-Term Solutions

While the shift to remote learning is March was very abrupt, teachers will have more of an advanced warning when it comes to the fall. Adapting a curriculum for in-person, remote or a hybrid variation will still be difficult, but with a better understanding of the educational gaps, students can expect teachers to be more prepared.  

Universal - K-12 Coronavirus Recovery Reopening Schools Video

Amelia Marceau
Amelia Marceau

Amelia is a marketing intern at Rave. She loves to write about anything safety related. When she’s away from the keyboard, you’ll either find her playing with her dog, ice skating, or competing in a triathlon. Amelia attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst, majoring in Political Science and Journalism.

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