How Schools and Districts Can Close the COVID-19 Learning Gap

Contributed By

Lauren Davis

EdTech Editor, Former Department Chair and Instructional Coach

How Schools and Districts Can Close the COVID-19 Learning Gap

Posted in Evolving Ed | June 23, 2020

Closing the physical doors of school buildings around the country with only around a quarter of the academic calendar remaining wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It was a sudden blow and the catalyst causing most schools and districts to pivot to distance learning by necessity. It goes without saying that K-12 students will return to school with a learning gap in the wake of this pandemic and its resulting disruption. The key is being prepared. Here’s how your school or district can start: 

Leverage data that already exists. 

At the beginning of the school year, we typically leverage state assessment data, as well as other end-of-year assessments, to determine how to best meet students where they are. This year, though, students will not come with end-of-year (or course) data that documents their proficiency on certain standards leaving educators with many questions. So, we must determine what information we have available to make informed decisions about how to structure interventions, allocate resources, and refine lessons.  

Inevitably, students will have some data from last school year from assessments and performance tasks. Organizing and studying all of the information you have available will help develop a more comprehensive understanding of student needs. Consider using these resources to identify valuable student data: 

  • classroom assessments 
  • district benchmarks 
  • course grades 
  • state assessment data from previous years 
  • project-based assignments 
  • Teacher surveys 

Ideally, there will be answers to many of your questions in this data. If not, at least the learning gaps will become apparent.  

Begin the year with diagnostic assessments and use them to tailor instruction. 

As teachers begin to get an understanding of where students are and what they need from data that already exists, it’s important to start the school year with a diagnostic assessment—or initial benchmark—to validate the learning gaps. Using your learning management system (LMS) and an all-in-one assessment solution, like Performance Matters, helps identify the factors that should be considered for those quick decisions that need to be made as soon as students get back to us in the fall.  

At a minimum students should be assessed on fundamental standards, transferable standards, and enduring standards.  

  • Fundamental Standards are those that provide a foundation upon which subsequent knowledge will be built. They’re essential because they serve to scaffold later content knowledge. 
  • Transferable Standards have value across content areas. They are often in the form of skills, and students are able to apply what they’ve learned in different classes and subjects. 
  • Enduring Standards are those that have value beyond a certain grade level or content topic. These are the standards that will reappear in the context of extension or deeper understanding in later grades. 

Increase formative assessments throughout the school year—both in-person and online. 

Formative assessments—which are administered to inform further instruction—should be embedded in lessons, encouraging the intentional pause for measuring student understanding and progress. Consider using rubrics to provide students with timely and actionable feedback, so that they are aware of and involved in their own progress.  

Blended learning provides ample opportunity for formative assessment. Students receive targeted instruction and feedback from various educational software programs, as well as small group and whole group formats. Blended learning even makes it easier for students to receive the benefits of self- and peer-assessment. The most successful blended learning classrooms are those that incorporate daily self-assessment practices, keeping students engaged and involved in their learning.  

Ultimately, by gathering any and all relevant student data that already exists, administering diagnostic assessments as soon as possible, and increasing formative assessments throughout the school year, we can identify and address our students’ learning gaps so that we are more equipped to help students achieve academic success.

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