A National Survey to Explore How Students Will “Catch Up”

With schools closed and implementing distance learning across the country, the Collaborative for Student Success is beginning to look beyond this academic year and working to drive a national discussion about how best to catch up from lost classroom instruction time once it is safe to return to school. To help inform this effort, from April 16 to April 24, we conducted a voluntary online survey of a large (5,500+) sample of education professionals from across the country, garnering responses from every state in the nation.

This is a critically important effort. Evidence clearly demonstrates that all students, especially at-risk students, suffer learning loss over the summer. This loss will be more pronounced as instruction stops for what is the effective equivalent of almost two full traditional summer breaks. If we do not act quickly and effectively to counter this disruption, student achievement could be negatively impacted for many years to come. And just as importantly, it could further widen already-unacceptable equity gaps in our education system.

The poll asked teachers, administrators, policymakers, and education advocates to analyze four return-to-the-classroom options: extending the next school year, beginning the next school year where instruction stopped this school year, beginning the next school year as in any other year, and offering students the opportunity to repeat their present grade.

While the survey found widespread recognition that many students will require additional assistance, teachers and administrators largely preferred conventional approaches, with only 15% of teachers and 28% of administrators supporting extending the school year. At the same time, more than half of advocates and policymakers support doing so.

The survey found stronger support for beginning the next school year with April 2020 concepts: 61% of administrator support this the most of the four options, while advocates and policymakers support it by a 54% to 36% margin and teachers agree 48% to 39%. Advocates and policymakers also showed some support (42%) for students having the opportunity to repeat this year’s grades, though administrators and teachers strongly oppose this idea.

Finally, a large majority of participants agreed that a high-quality assessment should be administered at the beginning of next year to help understand the amount of learning loss incurred: administrators 71% to 21%, advocates and policymakers 70% to 23%, and teachers 59% to 28%. This is a particularly noteworthy result that shows that majorities of education stakeholders recognize that data will be a powerful ally in any effort to overcome the learning loss brought on by the current pandemic.

Looking Ahead

Every facet of our society and the global economy is changing because of this pandemic, and traditional education must evolve as well. It is critical that states and school districts begin planning now for how they will counter this learning loss and get students back on track.

We know how hard teachers, administrators, and parents have been working to make sure students learn as much as possible during this time. But there is simply no substitute for in-class instruction—learning loss is inevitable and must be countered. Ignoring the inevitable learning loss of our nation’s students would be a grave error that would result in major declines in student achievement and a further widening of equity gaps.

We must begin with data. States should begin preparing assessments—non-punitive and unrelated to school accountability requirements—that can effectively determine the breadth and scope of learning loss. This data should then be used as a blueprint to create state and district plans to get students back on track. Given the anticipated learning loss, we hope teachers, administrators, districts, and states will remain open to all options, from unorthodox methods such as extending the school year (provided states and districts are willing to put in place the necessary resources and compensation) to creating differentiated, flexible, and personalized plans for individual students and groups. We must be willing to do whatever it takes to help students make up for this unprecedented learning loss.

Option 1

Pros

Cons

Begin the 2020-21 school year with the next grade’s instruction.

No major disruptions to family or school schedules.

Ignoring 3 months of lost instruction time will harm students in the long run, creating gaps in knowledge that will get exponentially worse as time goes on.

Option 2

Pros

Cons

Begin the 2020-21 school year with April ’20 concepts.

No major disruptions to family or school schedules.

Curriculum can be easily adjusted.

The Arlington (VA) Assistant Superintendent writes that, “as part of our commitment to ensuring equity of access to new learning for all students, concepts that students would have normally learned during the fourth quarter will be introduced in September, at the start of the 2020-21 school year.”

How can 230 days of instruction be taught during a 180 day school year?

Ensuring that students finish the school year having reviewed all grade level content would require more instructional hours.

Teachers may be asked to teach content they are not familiar with.

Option 3

Pros

Cons

Offer parents/students an opportunity to repeat the present grade.

Florida Governor DeSantis has already offered that parents can decide if they want their children to repeat their present grade and expert Mike Petrilli thinks it a good idea. He argues that students already 1-2 years behind should “remain in their current grade and, ideally, return to the familiarity of their current teacher.”

Expect a higher cost for states and districts if scores of parents/students choose to repeat grades.

Unpredictable grade-level populations will make it difficult to ensure that teachers are staffed appropriately at the start of the school year.

Option 4

Pros

Cons

Keep schools open this summer and/or start the 2020-21 year early.

Experts Andy Rotherham, Douglas Harris, and Dale Chu suggest students need summer instruction time. Andy writes this is “an unprecedented and remarkable situation in modern American education, but despite that, schools [should] live up to the warranties they make to students.”

Significant disruption to traditional family and school schedules.

Expect a higher cost for states and districts.