4 steps one district has taken to counter learning loss

Stress and trauma of isolation and illness have caused students to fall behind, superintendent says
By: | December 1, 2020
Virtual learning coaches, new technology and family engagement are driving Ector County ISD's COVID recovery strategyVirtual learning coaches, new technology and family engagement are driving Ector County ISD's COVID recovery strategy

As the scope of COVID learning loss becomes clearer, educators are quickly implementing strategies to prevent students from falling father behind in math and reading.

In Texas, fall testing revealed that students in Ector County ISD experienced “pretty dramatic losses in math and reading,” Superintendent Scott Muri says.

While Muri blames the pandemic, he doesn’t believe online learning itself is the sole cause of learning loss that has been documented throughout Texas, he says.

“In the spring, we had to transition over a weekend from serving 34,000 students face-to-face to serving them in a virtual environment, and we were not ready to do that,” Muri says. “Our community also wasn’t ready. There were families without internet access, including in parts of our county where, even if you have the money, it’s not an option.”

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As of Dec. 1, the district was still holding in-person classes. But the continuing stress of being separated from friends and teachers has also impacted student performance, as has thetrauma of seeing family members fall ill.

“From a teaching and learning perspective, things are much better today than they were in April,” Muri says. “I’m much more confident in the learning that’s occurring, even though we’re not at our best because it’s limited by masks, face shields, spacing and other factors that have not been a part of school.”

Still, tactics such as small-group instruction, which tend to help struggling students, have been hard to implement due to COVID restrictions, Muri says.

Here are some of the strategies Ector County ISD educators are taking to tackle learning loss:

  • Devices: Ector County ISD purchased 37,000 iPads and Chromebooks to ensure all students had a computer. It continues to work with the private sector to provide reliable internet access to all families, including via satellite.
  • Virtual learning coaches: Administrators have embedded virtual learning coaches with teachers to boost skills because “virtual is here to stay and we want to make it is of the highest caliber,” Muri says.
  • New digital tools: Ector County ISD has purchased virtual lab software so students learning remotely can continue to get a semblance of hands-on learning.
  • Engaging families: Teachers, counselors and social workers are communicating more often with families, both when students are succeeding and struggling. The district has provided new communication tools so teachers can reach out.

“With remote students, the engagement of parents and guardians is vitally important to our children’s success,” Muri says. “COVID has taught us we have to engage parents as part of the solution.”

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The district has also sent social workers and police to conduct welfare checks at the homes of students who teachers have been unable to reach.

“If the parents are struggling, we can provide onsite support,” he says.

Another key lesson the district has learned is that education will not and should not return to “pre-COVID normal,” Muri says.

“We saw tremendous gains from some kids, who mastered virtual learning,” Muri says. “We need to figure out how to continue the learning for them because coming back to face-to-face may not be what’s best for them.”

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