Over two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of K-12 students still have yet to get back on track. The disruption that was caused by the need to pivot to remote learning is still being felt by teachers as they try to address the disparity between where students are versus where they should be on their educational path. According to a May 2022 study conducted by Harvard using testing data from 2.1 million students across 49 states plus Washington, D.C., remote instruction was found to be a “primary driver” of widening achievement gaps across the board, with students in high-poverty areas being hit hardest. Because of this, teachers and parents continue to have their work cut out for them as they try to bring kids up to grade level in the upcoming 2022-23 school year.
What Caused the Learning Loss Gap?
This may come as no surprise to parents or teachers, but remote learning during the pandemic proved to be far less effective than in-person classroom instruction in terms of helping students understand and retain information. As this article from NPR states, when schools went remote in spring of 2020, “students simply didn’t learn as much or as well as they would have in person.” Experts believe the bulk of the learning loss likely occurred in spring 2020 when the pandemic first hit and schools had to scramble to get students and teachers on a remote-learning program.
Due to the fact that nearly no schools in America had previous experience or training for a remote-education scenario, coupled with technological and logistical limitations faced by a number of students, the shift to remote instruction got off to a rocky start. While many schools were able to address these issues over the summer break by sourcing more laptops and tablets for student use, training teachers for remote instruction and fine-tuning their remote learning programming, not all schools had the funds to accommodate their students’ basic equipment needs before the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Depending which state, and in some cases, which county, each school district was located in, while some students began the 2020-21 school year back in the classroom, a significant number of U.S. K-12 students continued with remote learning. It is estimated that high-poverty schools spent about five and a half more weeks in remote instruction during the 2020-21 school year than schools low- or mid-poverty areas, missing the equivalent of 22 weeks of in-person learning total, which accounts for more than half of a traditional school year. Considering that students in these schools are less likely to have a computer and a reliable internet connection in their homes, the inability to go back to the classroom caused the learning loss gap to grow ever wider.
By the 2021-22 school year, nearly all schools across the United States were back to a traditional in-person format, thanks in large part to the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine. Teachers, along with middle and high school-age students had the opportunity to start the school year vaccinated, with elementary school-age children getting the chance to become vaccinated by the end of the first semester. For a number of districts across the country, school looked quite similar to its pre-pandemic self by the end of the year. But the hard work to undo the learning loss that had occurred over the previous two school years had just begun.
What Can We Do to Narrow the Gap?
With a new school year upon us, educators and parents alike are hopeful that, barring any unfortunate surprises, the 2022-23 school year will be the most normal-looking and feeling one that we’ve had in years. Widespread availability of the vaccine for school-age children and school faculty and staff means far less chance of having to pivot to remote instruction than in the 2020-21 or even the 2021-22 school years. Now it’s time to focus on bringing students back up to grade level and narrowing the learning loss gap.
Some parents have turned to private tutoring companies to try to lessen the learning loss gap with supplemental summer learning programs. These companies utilize a variety of methods within their curriculum in order to complement each student’s individual learning style for greater chances of achievement and learning retention. Here are some of the ways tutoring companies are working to bridge the learning loss gap and prepare students in grades K-12 for the upcoming school year.
Educators have known this for quite a while, but learning is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Tutoring companies offer individualized instruction tailored to each student’s specific needs, giving them the opportunity to help children absorb and retain information the way they do best. A number of tutoring companies offer proprietary programming through online learning platforms that can be customized to each student’s unique learning style and achievement goals. Interactive games on a laptop or tablet make learning fun for K-12 students, and the use of bulk headphones allows them to minimize distractions and increase focus.
Remote learning may have caused students with ADHD, learning differences or executive function challenges to fall even further behind than their classmates. Tutoring companies provide additional support to help go beyond these students’ IEP to meet their needs. By utilizing gamification strategies in interactive programming tailored to fit their individual learning styles in conjunction with bulk headsets for a laser-focused, distraction-free environment, private tutors can provide the support that these students need to stay on track in the coming school year.
Structure and Organization
Perhaps one of the biggest culprits of the learning loss gap was the lack of structure in the early days of remote learning. K-12 students, particularly in the lower grades, thrive on having a set routine, as they do in traditional classroom learning. Pivoting to a remote environment meant far less structure and organization in their typical school day. Tutoring companies offer an organized, structured approach to learning that remote instruction did not, giving students the stability they need to focus on their lessons.
We still have a long way to go in bridging the learning loss gap, but we have the technology, knowledge and tools to change the course and get our students back on track. The upcoming school year is filled with hope for teachers, parents and students alike, and it is within our power to help our children find success after this crisis.