Mar 07 2023

How Ed Tech Can Help Reverse Post-Pandemic Learning Loss in K–12

After COVID-19 wiped out years of student progress, schools must rethink traditional, curriculum-based teaching.

For the past three years, K–12 educators have been raising concerns about the cost of the pandemic on academic achievement. That cost has been steep: According to the nationally administered 2022 NAEP assessments, nearly two decades of student progress in reading and math scores have been erased.

As the pandemic generation grows up, the toll on academic achievement will likely lead to skill gaps in adulthood that could translate to lost wages. However, this does not have to be our future. We can help students bounce back from learning loss by changing our approach to teaching, accelerating learning and supporting teachers.

Change the Learning Model to Guarantee Learning for Every Student

To solve a problem of this magnitude, we must challenge long-held beliefs about schools and invite new ways of thinking and leading. Michael Horn, author of Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life and a fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, describes schooling today as a system where “time is held as a constant and each student’s learning is variable.”

In this model of school, curriculum drives the school day, and student progress is based on the clock and the calendar regardless of a student’s ability to demonstrate mastery of what they have been taught. Contrast this with what we already know: All students can learn but not necessarily in a linear way, with everyone on the same path and learning at the same pace.

Imagine if we personalized teaching to meet the needs of the individual learner: We could create a learning environment in which time is the variable and learning is guaranteed for every student. Most important, it would foster continuous growth and a mindset that prepares all students for success. 

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Supplement Instruction with High-Quality Digital Curriculum

This is where educational technology can help personalized learning become a reality. By integrating a digital curriculum, schools can support the acceleration of student learning. Instead of rushing some students through the curriculum or repeating the same information to advanced students, a digital curriculum can help individual students engage with their most critical work as efficiently as possible.

With direct instruction, practice and formative assessments, a high-quality digital curriculum can accelerate learning by providing standards-based instruction that meets students where they are.

DISCOVER: Why bold schools use technology to support pedagogy.

A 2021 study from Zearn, a nonprofit organization that runs an online math platform for elementary students, confirms the value of acceleration.

In its report “Accelerate Don’t Remediate: New Evidence from Elementary Math Classrooms," Zearn found students who experienced learning acceleration struggled less and learned more than those who experienced remediation. Further, learning acceleration can be especially effective for students from underserved communities.

Supporting Student Achievement Must Include Supporting Teachers

Time and time again, research demonstrates that teachers have the greatest influence on improving achievement and learning outcomes for all students. According to “Teachers Matter: Understanding Teachers’ Impact on Student Achievement,” a 2019 report from RAND, the author estimates that effective teachers have two to three times the impact on student achievement compared with any other school-related intervention. 

DIG DEEPER: How advanced tech opens doors for K–12 students.

For school leaders dedicated to fostering a culture of learning that drives learning outcomes, supporting teacher learning is essential. School leaders must offer instructional leadership to teachers, including the support and professional development for digital initiatives that hold the promise for student success. Teacher learning must be intentional and ongoing to address the critical issue of student achievement.

Intentional Actions Can Ultimately Reduce Learning Loss

The past few years have been difficult for schools, but we can help our students rapidly bounce back from pandemic-related learning loss. To do so, educators must take intentional steps to innovate and transform their practice and share their insights with others while putting students at the center of learning — and we can ensure educators have access to the research and resources they need to drive academic achievement. After all, effective teachers are central to amplifying student learning and promoting academic success.

UP NEXT: How professional development increases teacher confidence.

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