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How to address pandemic learning loss

Educators always worry about “the summer slide,” when students might forget a sizeable chunk

of last year’s learning during vacation time. Now we must contend with “the COVID crash.”

While a few learners flourished during intensive online education, the majority seem to have

suffered in their various Zoom rooms across the ether and the country. Before the pandemic,

American education was already showing signs of strain, which became exacerbated in 2020 by

the uncertainty of education delivery, family functionality, community health and everyday life.

Learning Loss Statistics

Learning loss due to COVID is dramatic. The Washington Post recently reported that not one

state saw standardized test scores increase. Most experienced a two-decade record decline,

primarily in math comprehension, in both lower- and higher-performing students, and across

ethic and racial groups. In 2022, the average high school ACT score declined to the lowest level

in three decades. Last year’s Nation’s Report Card notes that only 26% of eighth graders are

proficient in math.

COVID Consequences in Education

Once lockdown began, caregivers fretted to figure out who would watch the kids, or who would check (or even teach) their daily materials and homework. Even confirming that students were paying attention to online classes, rather than playing Animal Crossing or Minecraft, was a challenge. Asynchronous module offerings were rarely accessed, while some students lost access to regular breakfasts and lunches. Some kids lacked appropriate workspaces, and were impacted by no access to computers or to Wi-Fi, or even lost crucial caregivers to the disease.

The Price of Parents as Teachers

Some educators tried to compensate with extra work, while others asked less of their stressed-

out students. The US Government Accountability Office said that 63% of teachers reported

more learners absent during 2020-21, and half of the surveyed educators said they had at least

one student who didn’t attend class for the entire year. Even when students returned to in-

person classroom instruction, existing worries, like mediating campus violence and mental

health issues, were further complicated by coronavirus surges and repeated quarantines, plus

staffing shortages and decisions about mask mandates. After being forced to become de facto

quarantine teachers, administrators and counselors, parents were clearly reminded the

nuances and difficulties inherent in teaching, tutoring and adjunct educational activities.

Learning Loss Solutions

The National Center for Education Statistics encourages educators and parents to review the

data from 4th and 8th graders nationwide to assist in learning recovery measures. Congress has

set aside $190 billion for COVID relief funding in American schools, but what can families

address at home to help make up the difference and remain sensitive to differing learning

styles? As ever, parents need to get involved with both sides of their kids’ brains: English and


Parents Must Work With All Types of Educators

Parents and educational caregivers, including other relatives and tutors, need to address the

COVID crash without shame or blame. A Learning Hero survey reported that almost 92% of

parents think that their kids are at or above grade level, but statistics paint the opposite

picture, especially with low-resource learners and students of color. Students are slowly

starting to rebound with educational goals, but only when teachers and other educators like

tutors work hand-in-hand. Together, they need to obtain a clear diagnostic picture of where the learner is today. Then, families and educators must collaborate on learning plans to make up any lost ground, and then move their learners forward to excel in classes and on standardized tests.

Intermediary and Ad Hoc Educators are Crucial to Mediating Learning Losses

Parents often heavily rely on report cards to track progress, but teachers and tutors prefer

more diverse and holistic approaches to success. Educators want to be believed, and not

blamed. They also don’t have the bandwidth to prioritize more intensive interactions with

families. So intermediary educators are often a powerful resource to bridge those gaps, and to

build trust as families and teachers alike scramble to make up for learning losses and create

new goals. Providing a clear snapshot of a child’s baseline learning, as well as a diagnostic for

future interventions, is crucial to creating these recovery paths.

Tutoring: a Top Academic Recovery Tip

Tutoring and math/ELA coaching has been identified as a top tip for that academic recovery,

along with improved instructional hardware and software, effective assessments, and after-

school programs. The Brookings Institution cautions on the distinction between family

involvement and family engagement, with the former having inherent limitations. More active

educational engagement promises more fulsome results. Report authors Anne Ishimaru and

Megan Bang have encouraged that we need to “recast families and communities as co-

designers of education.” Expanding an education team outside of the school system is a

prudent method to ensure a child’s learning needs are being met in the current moment, and is

an excellent backstop for future learning interruptions or challenges.

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