We are living in interesting times for education. With the pandemic winding down, schools and districts are  pushing for accelerated learning to make up for the learning loss that happened during school closures and virtual learning. 

Earlier this month U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, sent out a “dear colleague” letter as the department restarts the federal testing and accountability that was paused at the start of the pandemic. The letter points out the dangers of using testing data punitively in the face of learning loss during school shutdowns. He is concerned that the data being gathered will be used to punish teachers or districts that haven’t kept up.

There is no question that remote learning during the  pandemic caused learning loss. Multiple studies world wide have shown the largest learning loss occurred among students already disadvantaged. 

Many researchers are taking a look at what is working and what is failing within schools to help students close this gap and accelerate learning. And many school districts are using extra funds to implement those ideas.  So what has been found to be most useful? 

  1. Tutoring – Tutoring gives students a mentor and an accountability partner which studies have shown to be key in learning, especially with students who have extra challenges.   According to Penny Schwinn, commissioner of education for Tennessee, TN All Corps will, over the next three years, provide 150,000 students with high-dosage tutoring, which means frequent tutoring sessions with high-quality instructors. The state is teaming up with community partners to offer micro-grants to low-income families, allowing them to select from a range of tutors. 
  1. Wraparound Services – At Iste, two researchers, Dr. Caitlin McLemore and Dr. Beth Holland, gave a great presentation about how to help students catch up on their learning. They studied the success of Lindsay Unified , a high-poverty school district in California’s central valley, where students generally made progress during virtual instruction, even as kids in other districts with similar demographics lost academic ground. LUSD has a student population of 4,100. Nearly half of the learners are new to English and over eight in 10 live in or near poverty.  They found that Wraparound Services, which are those important areas outside of school based academics that can either support the student or derail their learning, were vital in keeping kids on track.  Caring for the whole student as well as their families was the best way to ensure a good outcome for accelerated learning. 
  1. Mastery Learning-  Another lesson from Lindsay School District is also a growing trend in education.  Mastery Learning has been around for a long time, but studying successful programs during covid highlights its importance. Mastery learning programs are proficiency and competency-based programs that are student-centered and student-driven. 

When Lindsay Unified School District started their Performance Based System 

Using a federal Race to the Top grant as well as a grant from the Gates Foundation to create a competency-based system where they know exactly where students are in their academic journey and how they are progressing. This system is used all though a student’s  LUSD journey and Lindsay High School is being studied because of the system’s success. 

It will be years before we understand how the Covid shutdowns affect our students’ learning, but it is vital to start asap to help our students catch up and move forward. The more researchers study the effects, the sooner we really understand how to accelerate learning going forward.

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