Our previous blog post, K-12 Priorities in the Era of a Pandemic, highlights the research Veracity conducted in the fall of 2021 to learn educator challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The research overwhelming (nearly three quarters) showed learning-loss recovery and social-emotional needs as the top priority educators are desperately working to address.
Key Observation: Academic progress has slowed, and gaps have widened.
We may not yet be able to fully quantify learning loss stemming from the largest disruption to education in history, but we can be certain that it exists. The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed society in profound ways, often exacerbating social and economic inequalities, and has presented unique challenges. Previous research around learning loss examined the impact of summer recess or disruptions such as extreme weather. Researchers are not able to pinpoint which aspects of the pandemic – remote learning, disrupted schedules, health- or family-related stress, social isolation, etc. – specifically slowed students’ progress. However, younger students, students of color, and students from low-income families fell further behind – according to McKinsey researchers1 and validated in our interviews.
Targeted instruction (teachers aligning instruction to the learning level of students rather than an assumed starting point or curricular expectation) is in practice but may be more common in wealthier schools. In a recent article by World Bank as part of the Mission: Recovering Education 20212, “Targeted instruction will require addressing the learning data crisis by assessing students’ learning levels. It also necessitates additional support to teachers so that they are well-equipped to teach to the level of where children are, which is crucial to prevent losses from accumulating once children are back in school.”3
Unfortunately, less wealthy schools (often less equipped) may be more inclined to focus on test preparation to make up for learning loss, an unforeseen consequence of the pandemic.
Targeted instruction and many other strategies to support students in recovering what McKinsey calls “unfinished learning,” may be harder than districts expect, but the scope of action is clear. These efforts and their impact are the right steps toward reimagining education systems for the long term.