A recent publication from UNESCO highlighted the disruptions in learning caused by COVID-19. The quarantine has highlighted and exacerbated learning gaps and inequalities. Students who failed or became disinterested during this time may be facing a higher risk of dropping out. NWEA suggests that students will experience a loss of 50% in mathematics. Sarasota County School Board in Florida reported the following “slide” in learning:
- 50% of students are at least one grade level behind in elementary school math, compared to 40% last year.
- 39% of students are at least one grade level behind in elementary reading, compared to 32% last year.
- 57% of students are at least one grade level behind in middle school math, compared to 51% last year.
- 44% of students are at least one grade level behind in middle school reading, compared to 40% last year.
As schools address reopening with students this year and plan for the next academic year, focusing on “catching up” will likely be a major concern. How will resources, time, and energy be invested? The UNESCO paper argues against the option of remediation-trying to reteach content and skills that have been missed. “There is compelling evidence that remediation is not effective. Students who are behind stay behind.”
Acceleration is recommended over remediation. With acceleration, the focus is on important learning at a certain level rather than trying to teach everything that a student has previously missed or failed.
“Now is the perfect time to ask whether the learning environments our students need today are the same as the ones schools offered them pre-pandemic.”
Larry Ferlazzo’s post Students Respond to Adults’ Fixation on ‘Learning Loss’ shares points that align with a focus on acceleration rather than remediation.
- Post-pandemic schooling needs to focus on relationships. Requiring an increased presence in schools of adults who both want to, and know how to, support students with re-establishing connections.
- Post-pandemic schooling needs to prioritize mental health and wellness. Requiring staffing and programming such that every student who needs support has access to it.
- Post-pandemic schooling needs to take a less-is-more approach. Requiring changes in adult anxiety around “learning loss” which is tied to the “quantity over quality” approach in curriculum and standards. We need to consider what is essential vs. what is extraneous and encourage schools to build schedules, structures, and curriculum units that support deeper learning, rather than superficial coverage.
My coaching conversations with teachers across the years leads me to connect the drive toward remediation to be caused by a fixation on scores and grades over a focus on learning. I think that teachers assess themselves on how students “did” on the test. So, when I remediate, I am testing the students on a lower standard, so scores are likely to be higher than when I accelerate and test on a higher standard. But the lower score on the more advanced standard may well indicate that more learning occurred.
I recall reading about a study done many years back where some 8th-grade students who had failed 8th-grade math were placed in Algebra in 9th grade rather than in remedial math. Many of them at the end of that year had not passed Algebra. But on a standardized math test, they scored higher than the students who passed remedial math. They learned more math failing Algebra than students learned passing remedial math. The problem exists in our “systems.” The school was unable to award students a passing grade in remedial math based upon what they learned failing Algebra.
I had a conversation with a parent whose young 9th grader managed to pass Algebra at the most minimal learning level. The parent wanted to explore the youngster being able to repeat the course to deepen learning before proceeding. The school had no way to award credit for a substantial increase in learning.
I am reminded of the struggles I faced as an early childhood educator focusing on grades K-1-2. A common conversation always emerged as a school year came to an end surrounding whether a kindergartner would be better served by repeating kindergarten or moving to first grade. It was a question that we should not have been forced to answer. Neither option was what was best for the learner. The system should have allowed for learning opportunities that best met all learner’s needs. A multi-age learning setting would have supported teachers in responding to student learning needs.
Consider how you can implement reflective coaching conversations with teachers that build an increasing focus on student learning and progress? Assist teachers and their students in documenting learning and understanding. Deep learning is often complex and not measured easily on programmed assessments. How can you support teachers in planning for the depth of learning and avoiding surface remediation?
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action