How to Prepare for Gaps in K-12 Student Learning and Retention

Author: Jarrod Sadulski
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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University

K-12 students have been physically out of school since March when the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the United States. The abrupt closure of schools affected nearly all public and private schools in the United States and at least 55 million elementary and secondary school students.

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As a result of the continuing pandemic, it is likely that many K-12 students will begin the academic school year online. For K-12 students unfamiliar with the online format, parents and teachers need to take the time to help students learn how to navigate the online classroom. Providing students with an organized schedule for learning throughout the week is also essential in online classes.

There were many challenges for both educators and students when schools attempted to quickly switch from a traditional classroom setting to a new remote or online learning environment. These challenges included technical issues, course material delivery problems, and a lack of familiarity with teaching and learning methods in the online environment, all of which were bound to have had an impact on learning. For most students, the end of the school year came just two months later.

K-12 Students Will Need Essential Online Learning Skills and May Require Tutoring Services

Time management and organizational skills are  essential in online learning. Tutoring services should be available for K-12 students who are participating in online learning as soon as the new school year begins.

Missing School for a Long Time Is Likely to Have Major Effects on K-12 Student Achievement

As students prepare to return to school, there is a legitimate concern of learning regression since they left their classrooms back in March. Previous seasonal learning research found that student achievement typically declines over the summer months with steeper declines in math.

However, the fact that K-12 students were out of physical classes for nearly three months before the normal summer break raises concerns over the level of student retention, especially in math and reading. This concern was supported by the Collaborative for Student Growth (CSG) at the Northwest Evaluation Association, which provides research and tools for educators in over 9,500 schools, districts, and education agencies in 145 countries.

The Collaborative for Student Growth (CSG) has developed preliminary forecasts that support the concern that missing school for such a prolonged period of time is likely to have major effects on achievement when K-12 students return to school.

CSG’s research found that students will likely return with approximately 70% of the learning gains in reading and 50% of learning gains in math compared to a typical school year. Most concerning is that students in some grades may be nearly a full year behind in their academic progression, compared to what would have been found in normal conditions had the coronavirus pandemic not occurred.

Educators and Parents Must Be Prepared for Gaps in Academic Performance

As a result, educators and parents must be prepared for academic performance gaps when K-12 students return to school. In addition, it is important to mitigate this challenge as early as possible.

Many states and school boards offer learning programs such as i-Ready, a comprehensive assessment and instruction program that students can access from home during the summer months. These programs use diagnostic data and personalized instruction through user-friendly dashboards to measure students’ strengths and areas for improvement.

Parents Can Contact Their Local Schools for Learning Platforms and Other Resources

Online lessons address ways to strengthen weaknesses and learning. During the summer months, parents can contact their local schools to inquire about these learning platforms and how they may be accessed.

Curriculum Associates offers a free resource for K-8 students to maintain their learning over the summer. This type of resource is designed to support learning during extended absences and to reinforce important learning concepts in math and reading for each given grade.

The site includes printable at-home learning activity packs with self-directed learning activities. These resources are designed to reinforce important learning concepts in math and reading for each given grade during extended absences from school.

Other Options for Improving K-12 Student Performance

One option to consider to foster additional learning when school resumes would be to extend the school day by an hour per day or conduct a virtual school week during the traditional spring break. Research supports this option. In Florida, students’ reading scores increased as a result of a requirement for low-performing schools to extend their school day. Another study found that sending struggling students to summer school following eighth grade decreased their risk of dropping out of high school.

Another option to increase student learning and help make up for the lost time is to extend the school year. Also, since it is likely that some students will struggle academically when they pick up where they left off, schools and parents may wish to plan for tutoring these children. Schools could offer after-class tutoring in small groups for social distancing requirements, and parents could begin their search for a qualified tutor as school openings near.

Returning to school is inevitable, and there will likely be a gap in academic performance and retention from when K-12 students left the classroom in March. Promoting learning throughout the summer and remaining actively engaged with students’ local schools is essential.

About the Author

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor with American Public University in the School of Security and Global Studies. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, local law enforcement’s response to domestic terrorism, and promoting resiliency from police stress. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.

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How to Prepare for Gaps in K-12 Student Learning and Retention

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