The impact of COVID-19 on students’ academic achievement

You’ve heard of summer slide: What if you add a ‘COVID slide’ to the mix?
Published: Jun. 29, 2020 at 9:46 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As we await concrete plans from area school districts regarding returning to school in the fall, questions remain about the potential academic impact of the spring school closure.

You’ve heard of summer slide: What if you add a ‘COVID slide’ to the mix?

Some research may create new concerns for local families, as projections show some students could be nearly a full year behind in some subjects, forcing school districts to come up with a plan to respond.

“I think everything we do will have to have a little asterisk by it, because guidance could change, our data could change,” says Dana Monogue, superintendent of the Middleton Cross Plains School District.

Monogue says she is used to questions about summer slide, but Covid slide is uncharted territory.

“We’re learning to be really flexible, we’re learning to pivot, with a really short timeline, I think that will continue to rule the day through all of next school year,” Monogue says.

She says teachers and staff are using the summer months to plan, knowing there will be new challenges after 5 and a half months of empty classrooms.

“We can predict that that summer learning loss is only going to be exacerbated by the spring school closures,” according to Monogue.

She says they're focusing on two priorities: The social and emotional needs of students (as they reintegrate into classrooms) and assessing where the gaps are and how to best fill them, especially for subjects like foreign language and math.

“There’s a pretty determined skill progression and because our students maybe didn’t have the intensity of instruction this past spring, our educators are going to have to go back and do some review and do some reteaching or new teaching of skills that maybe students would have mastered in the last school year,” Monogue says.

Researchers at the national non-profit Northwest Evaluation Association assess students around the world.

They compared the academic trajectories of a typical school year with no closure, to a hypothetical scenario in which they walked back the slope of summer slide to March 15.

They found that students may return in the fall with about 70 percent of the typical learning gains in reading and only 50 percent in math.

“We also know a lot of kids are suffering economic inequalities and the like, so the impact could be substantially worse for some kids than for others,” said Beth Tarasawa, Executive Vice President at the Northwest Evaluation Association.

When you look closely at the math predictions, the decline in learning loss is greater the younger the child, and is projected in some grades to be nearly a full year behind.

“Math tends to be a little more difficult for parents to support in the home,” says Tarasawa. “When you have a lack of that opportunity, that tends to be impacted more in the younger grades.”

“I think a full year behind to me seems a little extreme, will we expect some learning loss or some lapse or lag in skills for some students? Of course we will and so we will trust our teachers and teacher teams to quickly assess that and then to provide appropriate instruction,” Monogue said.

As for what you can do as a parent: Read to them, or if your kids are older, read the same book and talk about it. Work on a foreign language with an app like Duo Lingo.

And there are also clever ways to sneak in math lessons: Cook with your kids using measuring cups, or play a board game, which often is embedded with math and problem solving skills.

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