Learning loss or COVID slide – whatever you call it, doesn’t sound fun. If you look at it like I do, learning loss is just another obstacle that teachers, the best problem solvers and solution finders around, will overcome.

Depending on what article you read, one of these statements regarding learning loss is true:

  • Learning loss is a very real phenomenon and hugely detrimental to student progress.
  • It actually depends on the student and his/her personality, socio-economic standing, learning style, and parent supervision. It’s a myth created by people with ulterior motives.

There’s likely some truth in all of the statements above. Since I no longer work directly with students, I don’t have first-hand knowledge of how great the issue of learning loss is; however, what I am hearing is that the impact is real, but just how real remains to be seen. Some students were able to really thrive in a remote learning environment. My belief is that children are resilient, and they can, and in most cases, will catch up, especially with the dedicated teachers we have in this world

“You have at your fingertips truly actionable data.”

My colleague, Ellen, recently shared a fantastic article, What Does COVID-19 Learning Loss Actually Mean?, written by Tommy Thompson, a former building and district administrator who now runs workshops on teacher clarity. He asks questions that are very similar to the ones that drive PLC discussions:

  • What specific knowledge and skills are learned per subject?
  • How do we know what knowledge and skills are learned by each student?
  • How do we know what learning has been lost?

This article led me to think about just how powerful PLCs and collaboration, in general, are in education. Similar to what Ellen said in her blog, Please Tell Me You Restart Your New Year’s Resolutions Every Month, Too, we are better when we tackle our challenges together.One idea Thompson proposes is using teacher-created pre-assessments before each unit and then post-assessments after each unit to ensure students have met the expected learning target. I like this idea a lot. Similarly, I like the idea of giving an assessment at the end of this school year/beginning of next school year to assess the skills deemed to be essential and see just where the gaps in learning lie. Creating common assessments that can be tweaked and reused each school year seems like a perfect back-to-school PD project for collaborative teams.

One Piece of the Puzzle: State Standardized Tests

With many states now evaluating the toll of learning as a result of the pandemic, many policy makers are discussing the use of standardized tests as a means of identifying student achievement and gaps in learning. While I believe standardized testing can be a useful tool; in my humble opinion, it is just that, a tool, and if viewed in that way, it can be a very useful and informative tool. However, it is a snapshot of a student’s understanding on one day. It is one piece of the puzzle, not the entire picture. In fact, educators are able to take what they learn from those standardized tests, and fit that together with local assessments, another important piece of the puzzle.

The Corner Piece of the Puzzle: Local and Teacher-Created Assessments

From my years of experience as an educator, I believe local, authentic, ongoing assessment is the most powerful tool for knowing where our students are in their learning and the best way to inform instruction. First, and possibly most importantly, it is ongoing, so looking at student progress over time paints a more complete picture. Secondly, it allows for targeted instruction, meaning educators can be strategic in what is taught and to which students. Thirdly, it is authentic. Educators are able to match instruction and assessment. For example, I was a middle school reading and writing teacher for the majority of my teaching career. I used performance-based assessments almost exclusively in my classroom. So, oftentimes, I felt that standardized tests didn’t necessarily present an accurate summary of my students’ ability to demonstrate their understanding of a learning standard. I knew if my students were developing writing skills by reading their writing. I knew if they were able to comprehend what they read by reading their responses to literature and listening to the discussions they had with me and with each other. This piece was instrumental in knowing what knowledge and skills my students learned.

The Missing Piece: Mastery Manager

Mastery Manager can provide another integral piece of the puzzle, taking much of the busy work off of teacher’s plates and using assessment data to answer all three of Thompson’s questions. Because Mastery Manager makes assessing students super simple, and the results are immediately available, it enables stakeholders to have conversations that determine what action steps need to be taken in regards to instruction, remediation, and/or enrichment. You have at your fingertips truly actionable data. Due to the ease of assessment duplication it is a cinch to share assessments across grade levels. Using unit or standard based assessments to assess skills taught at a previous grade level can help educators pinpoint exactly where the gaps exist in student skill sets and determine if re-teaching might be needed before starting a given unit to ensure success. Additionally, because Mastery Manager has powerful longitudinal reporting, teachers are able to monitor student progress over time and adjust instruction accordingly along the way. Mastery Manager also allows teachers to assess in the same way that they teach. For example, if a teacher uses rubrics or checklists in assessing student work, Mastery Manager allows teachers to use those same tools to assess authentic student work.

Completing the Puzzle

Teachers everywhere are amazing, and with their determination, they will be able to fill the gaps of learning loss. I have to believe, given the time and freedom to use the even greater expertise they have gained over the last year, teachers will facilitate the growth we need for our children to catch up. If policy makers trust educators as the professionals they truly are, our educators will find creative solutions to what may seem to be insurmountable problems. These teachers who mastered synchronous vs. asynchronous learning and various online tools to continue the education process will find a way to put the puzzle together. 

With every challenging time we go through as human beings, we have the opportunity to learn and grow. Since this is one of the most challenging periods we have experienced as a global community, I have to believe that the lessons we will learn will be impactful. How will a year of remote learning and hybrid learning affect how we approach teaching, in general? Will we reframe the question about learning loss to be about lifetime gain? What have we learned? Where did you shine? What were the wins? Let us know!

Jenny Ward-Muñoz has been a teacher of multiple grade levels, including elementary and middle school, spanning 19 years. Additionally, she served as an administrator with a group of alternative high schools for three years, focusing on data analysis and professional development. She now uses her classroom and administrative experience to support Mastery Manager educators and offer insight into best practices and real-world application. 
She lives in Chicago with her husband, Mark, her four year old daughter, Maddie, and her three cats, Nero, Barry White, and Tulla. In her free time, Jenny loves traveling, reading, and cooking.

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