How deep will the COVID-19 learning slide be?

Educators will have to pay close attention to data to ensure students are getting the appropriate supports next fall
By: | April 17, 2020
To limit impacts of a COVID-19 learning slide, superintendents and teachers need to ensure students have ample support and access to technology during online learning. (Matese Fields/Unsplash)To limit impacts of a COVID-19 learning slide, superintendents and teachers need to ensure students have ample support and access to technology during online learning. (Matese Fields/Unsplash)

Research on summer learning loss shows that a much greater “COVID-19” slide could occur when students now taking online classes return to school after the coronavirus closures, according to a new NWEA report.

“Preliminary COVID slide estimates suggest students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year,” researchers with the nonprofit testing organization wrote in the study. “However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50% of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind.”

Research estimates that over the typical summer, students lose at least two weeks and as much as three months of learning.

To limit the impact, educators and families need to ramp up support for students during online learning, especially in math, the researchers wrote.


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Among the pressing challenges, they said, is ensuring equity by giving all students access to the internet with reliable technology.

“Making sure all students and families have access to appropriate, engaging mathematics and reading materials, instruction, and support during coronavirus closures is one important way we can prevent opportunity gaps from growing,” the researchers wrote.

Educators also will have to pay close attention to data and assessments to ensure students are getting the appropriate supports. Meanwhile, further research is needed to determine the best policies to help schools and students recover, the researchers wrote.

“Schools, families, and communities are working in countless ways to support their children academically during this crisis, experimenting with online learning, homeschooling, exploring extending the school year and/or providing additional supports when school resumes, among other examples,” the researchers wrote.

How will COVID-19 impact summer vacations?

Some educators expect schools may have to do extensive teaching over the summer to help students make up for lost learning.

Others have also asked if the coronavirus closures could convince more school districts to move year-round schooling.


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“Even if school is held this summer, I don’t think the change will be permanent,” Jon Pedersen, dean of the College of Education at the University of South Carolina, wrote in the online journal, The Conversation. 

Research on year-round school has been mixed, Pedersen added.

Some studies show benefits, such as more time for remediation and eliminating student boredom during the summer. Other research, however, shows year-round school is more expensive and can disrupt family schedules.

He also noted that many people believe summer break was originally instituted in the 1800s so students could help with the family farm or other agricultural businesses.

However, Pedersen said, another potential origin is that urban schools of the era also did not want to keep students in hot buildings.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.