“COVID-19 Slide” Will Yield More Learning Loss Than Summer Slide

Summer slide, a term used to define the learning loss kids can experience when not in school, will likely be even larger this year, due to the early spring dismissal of more than 50 million students in schools around the nation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The average student in a normal academic year can “slide” back one month each summer. Kids from low-income families can experience even more loss – up to two full months of learning, each summer. Studies also show that older students lose more than younger students. (You can learn more in our previous blog on summer slide.)

COVID slide, or the COVID gap as it is sometimes called, is the lapse in skills and knowledge students may face due to the long school break during the start of the pandemic. Add to that the usual summer break, and students will have been out of the classroom for nearly five months – so far. We are just beginning to see district plans for fall learning, which may keep students out of the classroom altogether, or attending in-person just a few days per week. What will this mean for our most vulnerable students, including those who don’t have reliable internet connectivity and devices, or alternative learning support?

As Alejandro Gibes de Gac, founder and CEO of Springboard Collaborative, a nonprofit that works to close the literacy gap by closing the gap between home and school, said in this article, “With every passing hour of school closures the achievement gap is growing wider and wider. I go on Instagram and I see parents with means who are on their third science experiment of the day. They’re teaching their kid how to play chess, violin, and do calculus all at the same time. And I know that’s just not the reality in terms of the families that Springboard tends to serve, those who are worried about how to keep a roof over their head, how to put food on the table. It just looks very very different.”

Springboard’s approach is to equip low-income families with the tools to help their students, while also acknowledging the many constraints these families deal with, especially time. “Even if you only have 15 minutes to sit down with your kid and a book,” Gibes de Gac says, “know that if you do this and only this, your kid is still becoming a better reader, and you’re doing right by them as a family member.”

Springboard has the data to support their efforts. According to a 2019 report, “70 percent of students met their goal of reaching the next reading level, and 55 percent exceeded their goal; in just 10 weeks.” Since the pandemic, they have pulled together a four-week long program for learning at home. “There’s no smaller classroom than a living room. So if there’s a silver lining in any of this,” Gibes de Gac says, “my hope is that we can fundamentally reshape the relationship and the dynamic between school systems and low-income parents.”

Keeping students engaged is key. As this study by Johns Hopkins sociology Professor Karl Alexander and his colleagues found, students from low-income families who are experiencing a high level of learning loss are likely to drop out of high school altogether. The downtime over the summer is where the learning loss happens, as achievement scores showed “disadvantaged youngsters” and their “more advantaged peers”, (as referred to in the research), tracking about the same during the school year. But, summers of learning losses add up, placing the disadvantaged students behind their peers. The students in the study were followed from first grade through adulthood. It is too early to know exactly how the pandemic has affected students from underserved populations, while we are still in it, and trying to sort out what 2020-2021 academic year looks like remains a question still to be answered. But, based on summer slide research, we can predict students will be affected in a variety of ways for years to come unless interventions are taken.

A recent report from the Northwest Evaluation Association suggests the following steps be taken now by district leaders and teachers, to ward off further learning loss:

“Don’t wait”: start planning now for the fall semester.

“Assess”: create some form of end-of-year assessment for your class or district to compare this year to last year, creating some sort of benchmark.

“Adjust”: Fall 2020 curriculum will need to look differently from Fall 2019 curriculum. You may need to adjust things as you go. It will take longer than one semester to get students back on track, especially given how diverse student learning can be.

ACT and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have partnered together for a webinar, on the Share My Lesson platform, on how to address and rebound from summer learning loss Thursday, July 9 at 2 p.m., EDT. Denita Richardson and Heather Wilmot, from the ACT Learning Accelerator team, will share with teachers how to respond to the unique learning needs of your students by meeting them where they are. Teachers will better understand the powerful combination of data-driven, adaptive personalized learning and will learn about how to identify student learning priorities and the role of adaptive content and pathways to support personalized mastery and student success. Learn more and register here.