More than two years since the start of the pandemic, most teachers now feel confident in their ability to teach virtual classes. But their confidence is shakier when it comes to the more immediate challenge facing many educators this school year: Getting students caught up after years of interrupted schooling.
That is according to the surveys of teachers conducted as part of the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. (The latest NAEP test results revealed troubling declines in achievement for U.S. students.)
What’s more, a significant portion of teachers—at least 50 percent in 8th grade reading and math, and at least 65 percent in 4th grade reading and math—spend at least part of every week working on remediation. Remediation often entails teaching below-grade skills in order to give students a foundation for more-advanced content.
While nearly three-quarters of 8th grade math teachers said they could “definitely” conduct a virtual lesson in real time, less than 1 in 6 felt “extremely confident” that they could address students’ knowledge gaps and skills. About another third were “quite confident” in their ability to help students’ catch up; and 41 percent said they were “somewhat confident” they would be able to help fill students’ knowledge gaps.
The data for 4th grade math teachers are similar, with 72 percent saying they could “definitely” teach a real-time virtual class, but only 11 percent expressing the same level of assurance that they could help students catch up academically. About another third were “quite confident” in their ability to help students get back on track academically; and just over 40 percent said they were only “somewhat confident.”
Stevie Frank, a technology integration coach in Indiana’s Zionsville Community Schools, wasn’t surprised by those findings.
“When you’re teaching virtually, everybody’s getting the same content. You’re just delivering it,” she said. “When you are doing those reading interventions or you’re doing those math interventions, then you’re targeting skills and deficits,” often for dozens of students, all with different learning needs, she said. “That is one of the hardest things to do. It is doable with the correct supports. [But] a lot of [teachers] are not given those correct supports.”
Overall, student scores on the NAEP plummeted in the most recent round of tests, revealing the devastating impact of disrupted pandemic learning. Results for students who took the test in spring 2022—the first main NAEP administration for these grades since the pandemic began—show the biggest drop in math performance in 4th and 8th grades since the testing program began in 1990.
For now, many schools are tackling students’ knowledge gaps primarily through remediation, the data show. About a third of 4th grade math teachers report that they are doing remedial work in their classes every day or almost every day. Roughly another third say they do it once or twice a week. And only a little over 1 in 5—22 percent—use remedial measures once or twice or month.
The data are similar for 8th grade math, where about 1 in 5 teachers use remediation every day, or almost every day. A little more than a third—37 percent—use it once or twice a week. And a bit more than a third use remediation once or twice a month.
Joseph South, the chief learning officer for the International Society for Technology in Education, thinks educators might be able to employ their newfound tech skills to tackle the mammoth task of catching students up.
“Technology is really great at meeting students where they are and helping them take the next step that they need to,” South said. “It’s also really great at giving teachers really clear data and information about who is where and who’s behind and what the deficits are.”