As district superintendents start to plan for what next year’s instruction will look like after months-long school shutdowns, one major consideration is how to address the significant learning loss that many students have likely experienced this spring.
Among the plans to make up for lost time: Run summer school, possibly extend the school year or the school day, or start next year by reteaching content from this spring.
But according to a new survey from the advocacy group Collaborative for Student Success, most teachers would prefer not to change the structure of the upcoming school year.
The survey, which was sent out in mid-April, asked about 5,500 teachers, administrators, and policymakers and advocates for their opinions on four different options for the 2020-21 school year:
Plan for an extended 2020-21 school year, adding additional time to cover—or reteach—content from spring 2020;
Leave the length of the 2020-21 school year unchanged, but begin in the fall by teaching or reteaching content from spring 2020;
Begin the 2020-21 school year “as in any other year,” starting with new content;
Offer the option for students to repeat a grade.
Among teachers, the most popular option was the third one—65 percent said that if schools were back in session, they wanted 2020-21 to be a regular year. But they acknowledged that instruction would look very different, and there would be a much greater need for differentiation.
“In their open-ended responses, many of those same teachers call for a more targeted solution to helping the students most in need, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach,” the report’s authors write.
One teacher respondent in Florida suggested tiered classroom instruction, with one remedial and one grade-level group.
“Offer tutoring and additional homeschooling to attempt to catch those kids up enough to then gradually begin the next grade level material,” she wrote. Another teacher in Virginia suggested hiring teachers’ assistants to work with students in small groups.
Administrators also liked the option of starting the school year as usual, though not by as wide a margin as teachers: 54 percent said they supported the idea. The most popular option with this group was beginning the school year with instruction on concepts from spring 2020.
A Worse ‘Summer Slide’?
Still, a few teacher respondents doubted that this period of school closures would have long-term effects on student learning.
“Typically, the time after Spring Break is used to review for state testing anyway in preparation,” a teacher in Texas wrote. “There is very little new material introduced at that point, and what new material is to be introduced, I have been able to cover at home. On top of that, students tend to lose a lot over the summer break anyway, so realistically they will start off next year as they would have normally, confused and in need of some refreshing.”
Researchers suggest, though, that effects from the shutdowns could be worse than the usual “summer slide.” A study from the NWEA, the Northwest Evaluation Association, projected the learning loss that could occur if students aren’t receiving any instruction during closures. It’s possible, the researchers found, that students might retain only about 70 percent of their progress in reading from this year, and could lose anywhere from half to all of their progress in math.
Data from the Education Week Research Center suggests that students’ learning experiences may vary greatly during these shutdowns.
In a recent survey, 99 percent of teachers said they were providing instruction during school closures. But teachers also reported that on average, 25 percent of their students have been “essentially truant” (not logging in or making any contact, for example) during the coronavirus-related closures.
The Collaborative’s survey also asked if participants would be in favor of starting the next year with an assessment—not to evaluate or penalize students or schools, but to figure out what instructional gaps teachers would need to fill.
This suggestion of a diagnostic test was popular across groups: 59 percent of teachers, 71 percent of administrators, and 70 percent of policymakers supported it. This positive reception was “noteworthy,” the report’s authors wrote, “in a time of increased anti-testing sentiment.”
‘Another Year of Schooling Remotely’
Even so, the survey shows that policymakers and advocates would consider some solutions that teachers reject.
When asked about extending the next school year, teachers were decidedly against the idea: Only 15 percent supported beginning the year early or continuing it into summer 2021. But 51 percent of policymakers and advocates supported this option.
It’s possible, though, that for some schools, none of these scenarios will come to pass in the fall. In some states, such as Illinois and Maryland, governors and state superintendents of education have said continued spread of the coronavirus may force school buildings to stay closed into next year.
In open-ended responses, at least one of the respondents—a policymaker from Maine—noted this possibility, suggesting that schools focus now on preparing parents to continue with distance learning, and making sure every student has free internet access.
In short, the policymaker warned: “Prepare for another year of schooling remotely.”
Image: Closed Due To Covid-19 signs are posted outside Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., on April 23. —Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Correction: In describing teachers’ preferred plan for the 2020-21 school year, a previous version of this post referenced the wrong number in a list of four options. The most popular plan among teachers—beginning next school year with new content—is the third option on the list.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.