What Parents Need to Know About Pandemic-Related Learning Loss

With the school year well underway, schools and parents alike continue to process and experience firsthand the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing is certain: schools will need a consistent way to assess and then bridge students’ knowledge and skill gaps in a personalized, engaging, and data-driven manner.

The concept of learning loss has traditionally been an issue that educators and families deal with exclusively in the summer months. Since the spring of 2020, however, learning loss has taken on a whole new meaning as the pandemic has altered life for students and families. Districts and schools continue to struggle with virtual classrooms, and if you’re like many parents, you have growing concerns over how the hybrid-style learning has affected and, in some places, continues to affect your child’s knowledge retention and learning—all the more so if your child has special needs.

Many parents have questions: Will my child need ongoing tutoring? What can I do at home to help? What is my child’s school doing? Although these questions are not easy to answer, the following offers guidance on what you can look for and hope to see happening in your school, and what you can do as parents to navigate the years ahead.

Work with Educators to Diagnose Learning Gaps

It is hard to do anything without first knowing the gains and losses. Find out what your school and teachers are doing to measure students’ academic progress and identify gaps. Also understand the power of adaptive educational technology to help teachers perform “instructional triage” throughout the school year—assessing each student’s progress, proficiency, and mastery in a particular subject; identifying gaps to fill; and providing the student with tailored content that they are ready to learn.

Adaptive and creative technologies give teachers the ability to know what information to present to a student by understanding what the student has already mastered. For instance, interactive whiteboards combine technology with teaching objectives, allowing teachers to use game-like activities to assess what students know and make learning more collaborative and interactive. Microsoft Teams and OneNote Learning platforms can be used by teachers to assess things like student engagement and participation and to store and share resources and other class materials that students and families alike can access. Adaptivity is about responsiveness—for the student, educator, and families.

Ask About Efforts to Personalize and Gauge Learning in Real-Time

Personalization is all the rage in education—and for good reason. It is based on countless studies attesting to students’ broad range of learning styles and need for things like breaks to move their bodies and get fresh air and opportunities to collaborate in meaningful ways with peers.

As parents, ask your school and teacher what they are doing to address personal learning experiences for students? Also inquire about the programs and technologies being used to personalized learning in the classroom. Google, Microsoft, and Pearson Learning are just a few of the larger educational leaders who have risen to the challenge of creating unique and innovative ways to personalize student learning experiences.

Resist the Urge to Re-Teach and Over-Remediate

Experts believe students can demonstrate mastery of a topic if they have been given enough exposure to the crucial content and skills that address or support it. The point is to get a consensus on what, in general, students didn’t get a sufficient opportunity to learn. Then, teachers can examine the curriculum, weave in these missing foundational pieces, and alter the scope and sequence of lessons and units to match.

All of this said, families and schools need to resist the temptation to focus on the concept of reteaching. While it is highly tempting to go back and reteach the last chunk of the school year—especially when in-person teaching is possible—experts say that can lead to more issues in the future. In fact, studies continue to support evidence that when you go back and try to over-remediate, all you do is grow larger deficits. A commitment to stay on par or even accelerate the curriculum will allow students to work toward the high expectations of their current grade level.

Expect a More Holistic Approach to Education

Students returned to the classroom this year in varying states, with some showing up ready to learn and excited to share all that happened, and others toting backpacks overflowing with toxic stress far heavier than before. On top of that, they are now dealing with growing concerns over rising numbers of new cases and the lack of an FDA-approved vaccine for all children. For these reasons, a holistic approach to learning is vital to the education all students.

Holistic learning addresses not only kids’ academic needs, but also their social and emotional well-being. As a society, and certainly as parents, we must acknowledge the realities our kids have faced during this challenging time. Check in with your kids from time to time to see how they’re doing, and find out how their school is addressing social-emotional learning and growth. Ideally, you want to see it fully infused into the systemic structure of the curriculum.

Be Flexible

Most importantly, stay flexible and go easy on yourselves and your children’s teachers. As we all juggle unpredictable changes in our learning and work environments, flexibility is key to our success and to our ability to stay sane and productive during an otherwise uncertain time. Keep in mind, too, that even small gestures like sharing a book or chatting about current events with your child can facilitate learning, no matter when or where they happen.

As the stress and anxiety of the pandemic continues, remember to look at the positive side and use this as an opportunity to reflect on what we can do better. We have learned a tremendous amount about our society, our government, our economy—the list goes on. To classify this as a time of “learning loss” does not adequately describe what we have experienced. Although some learning gaps and deficits are to be expected, we should take time to ask what has been gained and how we use what we’ve learned to improve how we raise and educate our kids.