← Back

Addressing Significant Learning Loss in Mathematics During Covid-19 and Beyond

January 29, 2021 Education Next

By: Joel Rose

With vaccine distribution in progress and an end to the pandemic in sight, schools are beginning to turn their attention to the next enormous challenge: How best to address learning loss once students fully return.

Nowhere is the challenge more daunting than in middle-school math, where pre-pandemic research showed the average 5th-grade classroom included students performing at seven different grade levels.

Continuing to focus on grade-level instruction carries the real risk that students will only fall further behind, as key learning gaps from prior years prevent mastery of more advanced concepts (“The Grade-Level Expectations Trap,” features, Summer 2020). Without addressing these gaps, they’ll only accumulate over time and lead to more inequitable outcomes. But pulling the prior year’s textbooks from the supply closet carries another set of risks, and students who are at grade level will only be bored and disengaged.

Recognizing there are no good answers, many administrators will give teachers general guidelines to have high expectations aligned to students’ grade levels while filling the gaps along the way. This cake-and-eat-it-too rhetoric may assuage the near-term fears of parents and politicians who are less attuned to the nuances of grade-level scope and sequences, but many teachers know it is little more than magical thinking.

Now is the right time to shift how we think about teaching math. The confluence of several other forces—a widespread recognition of learning loss and its inequitable impact, the infusion of educational technology brought upon by school closures, the necessity of tending to students’ social and emotional development, and parents’ fears that their children won’t get back on track—all suggest we have the opportunity to try new ways to meet each and every student where they are and help them achieve proficiency.

Read the entire article here.