Plan for the
New School Year

Educators are facing what a recent U.N. report calls “the largest disruption to education in history.” Nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents are affected (United Nations, 2020). After months of school closures, the potential for a “lost COVID-19 generation” of students is emerging. Schools are searching for ways to address the needs of families and students.

“Students started this school year having lost roughly a third of a year in reading and half a year in math.” - NWEA

The nonprofit testing organization NWEA predicts that students started this school year having lost roughly a third of a year in reading and half a year in math. CREDO, an education research organization, recently projected that the average student lost 136 to 232 days of learning in math, depending on their state. McKinsey, the consulting firm, predicts that by the fall of 2021, students will have lost three months to a year of learning, depending on the quality of their remote instruction. Not included in the projections are other ways COVID affected students, like trauma from family members being sick or dying, additional family stress, and financial insecurity. Opportunity gaps have been widened by the loss of classroom instruction.

As educators and concerned citizens, we have an obligation to understand and meet the needs of our students. It is critical to ensure that learners, the education community, and the system can monitor learning progress in a timely manner and adapt instructional methodology accordingly. Prior to introducing remedial measures, diagnostic assessments are essential in ensuring that students’ needs are fully met. As the student receives support, ongoing formative assessment provides opportunities for targeted feedback loops to both student and educator. Finally, ongoing monitoring and evaluation efforts of the policy itself at institutional and system level will help hone the approach to optimize impact. OECD (2020), “Youth and COVID-19: Response, recovery and resilience”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19),

“Despite the pandemic, states will not be allowed to cancel federally mandated standardized exams.”

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education informed state education leaders that states will not be allowed to cancel federally mandated standardized exams this school year despite the pandemic, though they will be offered significant flexibility in how they give those tests and how they’re used. Acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum said testing was critical to understand the pandemic’s impact and give parents information about their children’s progress. Unlike last year, the department would not be “inviting blanket waivers” of federally required standardized tests, which include math and reading exams in grades three through eight.

Clearly, assessment will play a crucial part in discovering the extent of learning gaps and helping teachers formulate plans to fill the gaps. It will identify the location and extent of these gaps, contribute to planning lessons for the school year, and function as a tool used on an ongoing basis to track student progress. Assessment that informs instruction is not for labeling achievement levels, but for providing the right instruction at just the right time.

When School Starts

Identify Learning Gaps

The first step in addressing learning gaps is to accurately identify where the gaps exist. Assessments can be used diagnostically to evaluate what students have learned and retained. These assessments can cover a grade level, major topics, or lessons. The goal of assessment is to identify the size of the learning gaps to know what content to teach and how to tackle unfinished learning. Teachers use this information as a starting point to plan instruction that will meet learners’ needs.

“First identify learning gaps, then launch instructional strategies that move learners forward.”

 

Select an Instructional Strategy

Once you have identified where student learning gaps exist, the next step is to launch instructional strategies that move learners forward. Expect to see that some students have suffered larger learning gaps than others. This variability will necessitate different instructional approaches or differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction calls for the use of a variety of instructional strategies to meet students where they are and move them to where they need to go. Differentiated instruction relies on pre-assessment to flexibly group students for instruction and requires adjusting the content, process, and/or product to help all students meet challenging performance standards.

Adopt Flexible Learning Approaches and Methods

Flexible learning approaches and methods recognize that the need for catching up will vary among students. Teachers need to understand how to prioritize content standards to help students catch up without losing the most important knowledge, skills, and understandings. Emphasis should be on teaching skills and standards that are necessary for academic success in the current school year and in succeeding years. Disappearing standards, those that do not surface in succeeding grades, may have to fall off the instructional landscape.

Use Formative Assessment to Monitor Progress and Identify Learners Needing Additional Support

Formative assessment is necessary to properly inform instruction. It aggregates evidence about what students know and can do for the purposes of adapting instruction to improve student learning and monitor student progress toward mastery of important learning goals.

Periodic assessments can be administered at the end of a unit of study or at other appropriate time periods to identify which students have not achieved proficiency and require reteaching. Teacher observation is another way to identify students who have not mastered the learning goals. Once these lagging learners have been identified, steps should be taken to reteach using other materials or methods.

Plan for Challenges
  • Use scaffolded grade-level lessons to provide support with the goal of reaching academic independence. The gradual release method is an effective way to move students toward working successfully on their own.
  • Plan ahead for lessons that are known to be challenging and prepare instructional material to assist students.
  • Differentiate content for students. Consider going back a year to reteach foundational skills or use a different teaching approach.
  • Use assessment as a tool, rather than a ruler. This will be critical for recovery from the major disruption to learning incurred by our students. We must move past stigmatization of testing as a labeling and pigeonholing instrument and think of it as a method to target and address learning gaps. It is an important weapon in our arsenal for recovery from COVID
“Catch Up with Coach helps identify learning gaps, assign targeted instruction and practice, remediate with additional instruction, and monitor progress.”

Coach is Your Partner in Recovery from Unfinished Learning

Flexible learning approaches and methods recognize that the need for catching up will vary among students. Teachers need to understand how to prioritize content standards to help students catch up without losing the most important knowledge, skills, and understandings. Emphasis should be on teaching skills and standards that are necessary for academic success in the current school year and in succeeding years. Disappearing standards, those that do not surface in succeeding grades, may have to fall off the instructional landscape.

The remediation program Catch Up with Coach promotes teaching goals by focusing on skills needed for grade-level success and beyond. Use it in the context of your current year’s work, just in time, or to review content taught in your core program. You can even teach content that was missed before you begin your current year’s work. A full-year screener allows you to identify gaps by grade, and a unit screener allows you to pinpoint gaps by topic. For a more granular view, scorable lesson practice provides insight on student abilities at the skill level. All assignments can be made by the teacher or suggested by reporting on screeners and practice. Post-unit screeners allow you to track progress, and reporting suggests additional instruction and practice for students who still lack proficiency.

Hybrid in nature, Catch Up with Coach uses technology to provide data that the teacher can use in deciding to advance or remediate students along with class observation. Teachers are central to its instruction, while benefiting from data derived from performance on skills-specific practice and tests.

Sources

OECD (2020), Lessons for Education from COVID-19: A Policy Maker’s Handbook for More Resilient Systems, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/0a530888-en. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/lessons-for-education-from-covid-19_0a530888-en
OECD (2020), Youth and COVID-19: Response, recovery and resilience, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/youth-and-covid-19-response-recovery-and-resilience-c40e61c6/