How We Go Back To School

Education Week
EdResearch for Recovery

New research is already showing major setbacks to academic achievement in the months of disrupted schooling forced by COVID-19, with estimates that some students will have lost as much as a full school year’s worth of learning gains. How can districts and schools effectively measure and diagnose the learning losses? What types of interventions and staffing changes can be deployed to address the losses?

Moderator: Lesli A. Maxwell, Assistant Managing Editor, Education Week

Luvelle Brown, Superintendent, Ithaca City School District, Ithaca, N.Y.
Misael Ramos, Teacher, Springfield, Mass.
Nathaniel Schwartz, Professor of Practice at Brown University and leader in Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform

Key Takeaways:

Focus on social-emotional learning and routines first. The panelists noted that building relationships, routines, and trust with teachers will need to take precedence over immediate attempts to diagnose students’ learning losses. Superintendent Brown noted that adults will need extra mental-health supports, too, to ensure they’re ready to help students who come in after months of isolation, dramatic news developments, and economic disruption.

Prioritize formative feedback to diagnose learning loss over standardized tests. As Schwartz outlined, researchers generally say large-scale tests return results too slowly that prove not to be granular enough to help with teaching and learning. Some districts may choose to continue a cycle of interim assessments, but likely the most important form of diagnosis will be the daily, embedded formative assessments teachers use to plan and tailor instruction. In Springfield, Mass., teachers will begin lessons with “activators” connecting to the prior day or week’s learning to determine what needs to be refreshed or retaught before the day’s lesson.

Enlisting parents’ help means communicating with them on their terms. The Springfield district sends nearly all paperwork home to ELL students translated in their home language, and it assists with questions parents have not only about academics but also technology and socialemotional resources, teacher Misael Ramos said. Translation apps and local community organizations can help with these efforts. Districts can also use text messages to help inform parents about literacy steps they can take to assist their children and provide parents with takehome books can also help stem learning loss.

Brainstorm ways to deploy staff creatively. Springfield is “asset mapping” its staff and adjusting teaching loads to match: For example, a P.E. teacher who has a math license could be paired with a core math teacher to support a caseload of students, for example. Some ELL teachers who are bilingual are now tapped to reach out to parents who are also Englishlearners.

Re-think content and pedagogy. Superintendent Brown said the current situation gives schools an opportunity to “prioritize the content we engage students with and how we do it. I am hoping instead of filling in gaps, we create a new approach that is much more culturally responsive and inclusive. If giving more voice and choice to students we may not realize gaps, but instead new opportunities.” The nation’s newfound conversations about race, bias, policing, and public health may be fruitful places to start. In addition, as Schwartz detailed, emerging research suggests that synchronous teaching can’t just replicate normal lessons. is most effective when it is built around small-group peer interactions and direct teacher-tostudent feedback.