“There is a significant amount of learning loss that we’re going to have to adjust and account for to give kids what they morally deserve.” During his keynote speech at the Texas Association of School Administrators mid winter conference, Texas Education Agency Commissioner, Mike Morath, addressed the topic that is top of mind for educators across the country—Learning Loss. Morath shared that, “in order to catch kids up quickly this year, it will require both parent engagement and involvement.” Morath also stated that teachers will need "real-time information on student progress" in order to meet district performance goals.
How will districts across the nation identify learning loss in their students and how should it be addressed in the classroom and home?
What is Learning Loss
Learning loss is not new to educators, many students return from the summer break having forgotten knowledge from the previous years lessons. Research shows that teachers normally spend the first few weeks of a new school year reviewing the prior years content, most specifically in math compared to ELA. But the learning loss associated with COVID school closures has already greatly eclipsed the normal “summer slide”. Morath stated, “we had an achievement gap walking into the crisis, and the crisis has exacerbated it.” This is especially so in at-risk or socioeconomically disadvantaged students who already faced an achievement gap with their peers. “Our expectations cannot change for what kids need to learn, because life’s expectations have not changed from this pandemic.”
Identifying & Measuring Learning Loss
Identifying learning loss in students can be challenging for teachers and administrators. Student information including grades, prior years state tests and benchmarks are often stored in a number of different systems. For a teacher this may require toggling between these different programs or exporting results to Excel spreadsheets, compiling the results and then drawing conclusions. Often it can take so long to sort out the data that new information or assessments have become available and the data is no longer relevant or actionable. Larger districts may have data teams who are responsible for providing this information to teachers but it remains a challenging task to understand what measure of learning loss has occurred and the extent to which it will affect a students progress in coming years. To Morath’s initial point that teachers require “real-time information on student progress”, it is crucial that districts have systems that make it not only easy to identify the variables of learning loss but also provides each student's information in the context of their at-risk factors, and in real-time.
Addressing Learning Loss
Addressing the learning loss is the next challenge. Morath shared that curricular content cannot be adjusted downwards or students will never catch up. Teachers will need to teach to at least grade-level and intermix some form of remediation. Educators have also been encouraged to find additional opportunities for remediation outside of the classroom including tutoring or study groups so that students can focus on grade-level content inside the classroom and catch-up work, after hours.
For closing the gap on learning loss to be successful, parents need to be part of the equation. As the Commissioner noted, “in order to catch kids up quickly this year, it will require both parent engagement and involvement.” Learning should not stop at the end of the school day; parents need to be involved with their children to continue the lessons they receive in the classroom. But how can teachers share the instruction that is necessary for individual students with their parents? A lot of districts lack the 1:1 communication that is essential in connecting parents directly with teachers. Mass messaging and communication apps that are meant to connect entire classrooms of families with a teacher are not adequate to encourage the 1:1 phone conversations that need to occur for a teacher to speak with parents about instruction and remediation that can be completed at home.
Tools for Success
Districts and educators can begin closing the gap on learning loss immediately. The first step is to employ a platform where learning loss can be identified through the use of benchmark assessments and analysis of prior year state tests. This data will need to be in an easy to work with format as well as accessible to most everyone in the district responsible for lesson planning and curriculum; administrators to teachers and counsellors.
The second step is to communicate directly with parents in a 1:1 format. Districts will need a method of communication that will enable teachers to call or text parents and keep track of conversations that have occurred. The tracking ensures that all families have been reached and will help to identify students/families who have not engaged for further intervention. To reach all families, conversations will need to happen in the language spoken at home and for this to be scale to a class, grade or school, the communication system will need instant translation capabilities beyond the limited capacity of a district translator.
The learning loss that has occurred and continues to occur due to COVID is vast and will require multi-year investments into students and classrooms to be overcome. As Morath put it "if we don’t figure out how to meet our moral commitment to children they will have a lifetime of lower outcomes”.
SchoolStatus is the district-wide communication tool that integrates key student data in order to increase communication among educators, district administrators, and student families. The company’s solution aggregates individual student data, such as state assessments, attendance, and grades in an easy-to-visualize format and offers the option to communicate with student families via call, text, or email. Through SchoolStatus, millions of communications have occurred on the classroom, campus, and district level. For more information about SchoolStatus, visit http://www.schoolstatus.com.