Distance and hybrid learning | Education insights

5 ways schools can address learning loss

The COVID-era shift to distance and hybrid learning has required educators to both ensure learning continues moving forward and work to help prevent students from regressing.  

Educators we work with have expressed concerns that the challenges of distance learning may have stunted student progress. To help address these challenges, the most recent COVID relief package — the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 — stipulates that 5% of total K-12 state funding and 20% of Local Education Agency (LEA) funding should be allocated toward addressing learning loss.  

What Is Learning Loss? 

Definitions of “learning loss” differ, but the overall idea is that learning loss is the reversal or interruption of a student’s expected learning trajectory.  

Many educators are concerned that when schools began modifying and simplifying their curriculum to work within the constraints of distance learning, students began to experience learning loss. Almost all teachers (97%) say they expect some learning loss among students, with half of teachers saying the loss likely equates to three months’ worth or more.  

Learning loss is expected to be even greater among students who did not have equitable digital access during the pandemic. If digital equity was a problem before COVID-19, it became an even bigger crisis when remote learning became the norm. 

Much of this loss happened because students had trouble engaging at the same level as they would in normal times. In fact, our recent survey, Distance Learning in Review, shows that 36% of teachers said students were not retaining the information they learned while distance learning. In addition, 86% said student engagement worsened when school went fully remote, causing significant teaching challenges. Consequently, many schools began to either perform less testing (25%) or stop testing altogether (6%).    

Still, some advocates say it’s important to understand that students have kept learning. They just haven’t been learning exactly how or what was originally expected. Others point out that spending effort trying to quantify learning loss is an old way of thinking that undermines some of the greatest lessons to come from pandemic-era learning. 

Wherever educators land on this question, government funding is on its way, and addressing learning loss will be a big point of consideration. 

5 Ways to Address Learning Loss 

EdWeek Research Center recently surveyed administrators and principals to find out what kinds of support their district or school would need to address learning loss over the next year.  

Here are 5 strategies educators say they will be using:

1. Implementing in-person and online tutoring 

One-on-one help is the most common strategy schools will be employing over the next year. Some say they may opt for in-person tutoring versus online, or they may offer both formats to better serve students’ individual needs. Most commonly, schools are hoping this tutoring can come from current or former teachers, but they’re also hoping to tap paraprofessionals, teachers’ aides, and volunteers to support the demand.  

2. Providing extra support for English-language learners and students with disabilities  

Students who already needed extra support before COVID will likely need even more help to overcome the learning disruptions of the past year. Despite schools’ best efforts to continue implementing the Individual Education Plans of students with disabilities during the pandemic, it was difficult to provide the same level of support remotely, and the change of routine alone likely caused some difficulties for these students.  

3. Helping teachers identify and overcome learning loss 

Professional development is another key support schools are hoping to ramp up in the wake of COVID. Much of this learning will be targeted toward helping teachers diagnose students’ academic weaknesses so they can focus on improving the right areas. Schools may also invest more funding in early warning systems that identify signs individual students are struggling.  

4. Creating extended learning programs 

Schools also commonly say they need extended learning programs during students’ off-hours. Schools may opt for a variety of extended learning programs, including a combination of in-person, remote, and hybrid programs that take place during the summer, spring and fall breaks, and even on weekends.  

5. Offering education to help families support student learning 

It’s become readily apparent that parents play a huge role in student learning — and ideally should be even more engaged than they have been in the past. But schools recognize that many parents do not know how to effectively support their students, especially in situations of greater need due to learning loss. Some schools are hoping to add in-person, remote, or hybrid academies for parents to learn more about effectively supporting their students. 

Learning Loss Can Be Addressed 

In the past year, educators, students, and parents alike have learned an important skill – flexibility.  Many educators are thrilled at the prospect of moving away from a rigidly measured education approach and toward a more flexible, personalized future. 

The desire to keep this flexibility, in combination with the need to address digital equity and learning loss, means that education is almost certain to evolve in the coming months. Even as kids continue to step back into the classroom, there will not be a complete return to pre-pandemic norms. 

What has been lost may not be fully regained, but educators are working hard, as always, to build something newer and better in its place. 

LanSchool can help teachers monitor and connect with individual students to improve engagement and reduce learning loss. To learn more or start a free trial, sign up here. 

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