Special Report

How to Help Students Recover From a Broken Year

May 25, 2021
RESET SERIES 2 SQ Illustration
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty Images
The progression from kindergarten to high school graduation is intended to be a smooth trajectory for most children. Teaching is carefully calibrated so each year builds on the last and educators work hard to help students over inevitable humps, like moving to middle school.

But what happens when schooling is disrupted, as it was for most students during the pandemic this past year? Students are returning to school now after enduring trauma, stress, and physical separation from classmates and teachers. Many will have to reacclimate to old schooling routines and behavior expectations after more than a year in remote learning. And some will struggle with the prospect of repeating a grade.

How can schools help with the emotional and academic recovery? To find out, Education Week journalists gathered advice from educators, experts, and researchers on three key questions:
  • How can schools address the mental health problems that students will bring with them after a stressful, tumultuous year? 
  • How should schools deal with the thousands of students whose excessive absences and failing grades make them candidates for retention? 
  • What lessons might apply from schools for newly arrived immigrant children or the experiences of students whose schooling was disrupted by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina?  

The reporting includes practical tips and useful information resources for district leaders, principals, and teachers as they prepare for the return to full-time, in-person school.

Reporters: Catherine Gewertz, Arianna Prothero, and Sarah D. Sparks
Designers/Visual Artists: Laura Baker, Emma Patti Harris, Vanessa Solis, and Gina Tomko
Web Producer: Emma Patti Harris
Photo Editor: Jaclyn Borowski
Project Editor: Debra Viadero
Visuals Project Editor: Emma Patti Harris
Series Editor: Lesli A. Maxwell

Sources: Kathleen Airhart, program director for special education outcomes, Council of Chief State School Officers; Stephanie Andrews, interim executive director of student family support services, Tulsa public schools; Twainna Calhoun, principal, Good Hope Middle School, West Monroe, La.; FutureEd; Rob Coad, school psychologist, Walnut High School, Walnut, Calif.; Audrey Cohan, senior dean for research and scholarship at Molloy College in New York; Felecia Evans, principal, Lander Elementary School, Mayfield, Ohio; Emily Freitag, CEO, Instruction Partners; Mia Halthon, parent, Detroit, Mich.; Douglas Harris, economics professor and Schlieder Foundation Chair in Public Education, and director, Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, Tulane University; Sharon Hoover, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, co-director, National Center for School Mental Health; Tiffany Newton, parent, Newark, N.J.; Nicole Rucci-Macauda, teacher, Lander Elementary School, Mayfield, Ohio; Nathaniel Schwartz, co-founder, EdResearch for Recovery, Annenberg Institute of School Reform, Brown University; Allison Socol, assistant director of P12 policy, Education Trust; Shannon Glynn Thomas, program director for college and career readiness standards, Council of Chief State School Officers; Mary Toomey, assistant superintendent, Lawrence, Mass., public schools; Joanne Weiss, consultant; Martin West, professor of education, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Caroline Woodason, director of school support, Dalton public schools, Dalton, Ga.;

Documents: “A Longitudinal Study of Grade Retention,” Academic and Behavioral Outcomes of Retained Students Through Adolescence, Shane Jimerson & Phillip Ferguson, 2007 ;“Broad-Based Academic Supports for All Students,” EdResearch for Recovery, Kathleen Lynch and Heather Hill, July 2020; “Does the Timing of Grade Retention Make a Difference? Examining the Effects of Early Versus Later Retention,” Benjamin Silberglitt et al; “Education, Vulnerability, and Resilience after a Natural Disaster” by Elizabeth Frankenberg, Bondan Sikoki, Cecep Sumantri, Wayan Suriastini, and Duncan Thomas, Ecology and Society (2014); “Effect of Early Grade Retention on School Completion: A Prospective Study,” 2018, Jan N. Hughes et al; Effective School-Community Partnerships to Support School Mental Health, National Association of School Psychologists, National Center for School Mental Health; “Elementary School Grade Retention,” Miami-Dade Public Schools, Christie Blazer, Information Capsule Research Services Volume 1805, Jan. 2019; Florida Senate Bill 200 (2021); “Generation Interrupted: Rethinking ‘Students with Interrupted Formal Education’ (SIFE) in the Wake of a Pandemic” by Chris K. Chang-Bacon, Educational Researcher (2021);“Grade Retention of Students During Grades K-8 Predicts Reading Achievement and Progress During Secondary Schooling,” Catherine Aurentz Griffith and John Wills Lloyd et al, 2010; “Indicator 15: Retention, Suspension, and Expulsion, 2000-2016,” National Center on Education Statistics, Feb. 2019; Iowa Senate File 90 (2021); Kentucky Senate Bill 128 (2021); “Launch Nebraska: Nebraska’s Framework for School Renewal & Acceleration,” Nebraska Department of Education, 2021; Michigan Senate Bill 268 (2021); National Parents Union poll, March 2021; Nine Elements of Effective School Community Partnerships to Address Student Mental Health, Physical Health, and Overall Wellness, Institute for Educational Leadership, Coalition for Community Schools, National Association of School Psychologists; “Pandemic-Related Disruptions to Schooling and Impacts on Learning Proficiency Indicators: A Focus on the Early Grades,” by UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2021); Pennsylvania Senate Bill 664 (2021); “Rethinking Early Elementary Grade Retention: Examining Long-Term Academic and Psychosocial Outcomes,” Sophia H.J. Hwang et al, 2016; Review of state legislation affecting promotion/retention policies, Education Commission of the States, prepared for Education Week; “School Nurses in the U.S.,” School Nurse Workforce Study, National Association of School Nurses; “School Nurses in U.S. Public Schools,” Institute of Education Sciences; “School Practices to Address Student Learning Loss,” Elaine Allensworth & Nate Schwartz, EdResearch for Recovery, June 2020; “State Suicide Rates Among Adolescents and Young Adults Aged 10-24,” National Vital Statistics Report, U.S. Centers for Disease Control; “Students with Interrupted Formal Education: Bridging Where They Are and What They Need,” by Brenda Custodio and Judith O’Loughlin, Corwin Press (2017); “Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFEs): Actionable Practices,” by Audrey Cohan and Andrea Honigsfeld , NABE Journal of Research and Practice (2017); “Student to School Counselor Ratio 2018-2019,” American School Counselor Association; “The Effects of Test-Based Retention on Student Outcomes Over Time: Regression Discontinuity Evidence From Florida,” Guido Schwerdt, Martin R. West, Marcus A. Winters, 2017; “Trends in Children Who Repeated a Grade, 1993-2016” Child Trends; “Will This School Year Be Another Casualty of the Pandemic?” RAND Corp, 2020

This installment is sponsored by Navigate360. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.