4 steps to getting students back on track this year

This four-step approach to address this educational crisis is based on what we learned from Hurricane Katrina and what we know about our students today.
By: and | January 22, 2021
Melanie Little is a veteran math and science teacher, as well as a district consultant. Owen Clanton is Administrative Director of Middle Schools in the Curriculum and Instruction department in Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Louisiana.

Here in Louisiana, we learned important lessons 15 years ago about how students were impacted by Hurricane Katrina and what worked and what did not work when it came to catching students up and closing the gaps that occurred. Today, with so many experts weighing in on how and when to assess students to identify the learning losses created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems as though educators are having to sort through a lot of information to ensure students get the help they need.

Teachers, students, and families in Southwest Louisiana have not only dealt with the pandemic this year, but also two hurricanes back-to-back. Hurricane Laura devastated our community in August, and then Hurricane Delta came through a few weeks later to add to the destruction. Education, even distance learning, was put on hold for weeks due to damage to school buildings, lack of access to the internet and communication, and displaced families.

The following is a four-step approach we’re using as part of our effort to address this educational crisis. It’s based on what we learned from Katrina and what we know about our students today. Hopefully, it will be of help to others too. As school educators, we’re all facing enormous challenges this year, and we all want our students to succeed. That means thinking creatively, assessing learning gaps, and setting instructional priorities.

Step 1: Begin with the standards

If they haven’t already done so, educators should take a close look at the 2019-2020 school year’s finish. In our schools, for example, at the start of this year, we looked at where our fifth-grade teachers were in their math curriculum, Eureka Math, on March 13, the day we were originally sent home to work remotely. We then mapped the missing or incomplete pre-requisite standards forward to our sixth-grade curriculum using the Achieve the Core Coherence map.

Using the map, we were able to determine which fifth-grade standards were essential for the building of sixth-grade standards. We found that some missing or incomplete standards were not essential in this extraordinary year to build toward sixth-grade content knowledge and skills, allowing us to strategically plan for implementation this year accordingly. We completed this process for subsequent grades as well.

Step 2: Diagnose

Knowing where the students ended last school year, our teachers began assessing the students by using pre-module assessments provided and aligned with the curriculum and our standards. This allowed teachers to gain real-time, targeted information about where our students were lacking in the prerequisite skills.

From there, teachers analyze student proficiency of only those items that assess the pre-requisite standards for the first unit of study. Step 3 outlines what they do with that information.

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Step 3: Remediate, just in time

By putting the diagnostic data to use in this manner, teachers can prepare mini-lessons and provide practice for necessary skills in a just-in-time manner to close students’ learning gaps. One example of providing just-in-time remediation is Paul Riccomini’s Space Learning Over Time (S.L.O.T.) method.  S.L.O.T is a strategic spiraling in of essential standards. We have used this strategy in the past to ensure students are meeting grade-level standards and will continue to do so. In addition, we will use this strategy, whenever possible, to provide a 10- to 15-minute lesson on the pre-requisite standards where our diagnostic data has not shown student mastery. S.L.O.T will be followed up with student practice.

Step 4: Analyze the lessons for grade-level standards alignment

Finally, by analyzing the lessons in our curriculum for alignment to grade-level standards, our instructional team will adjust the pacing of our instruction by omitting or combining lessons to maximize the value of the time we do have with students this year. The focus will be on major content, those essential standards that will be necessary for students to master prior to the next year’s course.

Here in Calcasieu, students have had additional disruptions to their schooling as we have attempted to navigate the obstacles that have resulted from the pandemic and Hurricanes Laura and Delta. This four-step process is not how we might do things in a typical year, but I think we can all agree this is anything but an ordinary year. And who knows, there just may be some lessons learned from this experience and teaching practices we stick with going forward—not because we’re facing an emergency but because they make sense instructionally and work well for students, particularly those in need of extra support.

Owen Clanton is an educator of 15 years and is currently serving as the Administrative Director of Middle Schools in the Curriculum and Instruction Department in Calcasieu Parish Public Schools. He and his team are passionate about modeling life-long learning and seek out timeless truths, paired with educational research, to implement meaningful instruction to increase student learning.

Melanie Little has 23 years of educational experience serving in the secondary level as a math and science teacher, along with currently serving at the district level in Calcasieu Parish Public Schools as a math and science consultant. She is passionate about growing the capacity of teachers and staff to maximize student learning.