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COVID And Learning Loss

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There is an idea floating around the more liberal educational pages that learning loss is either not not an issue in the age of Covid-19, or not a real phenomenon at all. One article went as far as to say that learning loss isn’t happening because the standards that define it are made up by adults and therefore don’t matter. Another article asserted that learning loss doesn’t happen unless a student has a brain injury. The common denominator between such articles is blame on testing companies, accusing them of inventing the construct of learning loss altogether. While I agree that we need to take a serious step back from the major testing companies, I think it is misguided to think that our students will not be academically impacted in some way due to not being physically present in school.

The first argument, that learning loss cannot be occurring because the standards we use in education are arbitrary, is absolutely nonsensical. It would be like saying that racism doesn’t exist because race is an arbitrary social construct, or that laws don’t have to be followed because they are arbitrary. Yes, the standards are made up, but that doesn’t make them or their effects any less real. The fact that someone wrote them doesn’t negate the fact that our students may end up behind in reading and writing at the elementary levels as they enter their next grade next year. It doesn’t erase the fact that our students will not be as proficient in their other subjects later on down the road.

The second argument, that learning loss cannot happen in the absence of head trauma, is just as ridiculous as the first, if not more so. Learning loss during the summer months is a well established phenomenon. Numerous studies show that students can lose up to 30% of what they learned during one year of math and reading over the course of a summer vacation. This is only a 2 month break, imagine how much the effect will be compounded over a full year of not being in school with the addition of the trauma of a pandemic. Learning loss doesn’t mean losing something physical, like your keys. In addition to knowledge that is simply forgotten, learning loss also refers to lost time and lost opportunities. What students are missing out on this year, they have to make up next year, which means that they are not able to progress as far overall. That means fewer AP or college credit classes, fewer electives, and potentially longer time before graduating. The consequences of the Opportunity Gap are well documented.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why we are not in person schooling yet. The safety of our students, their families, and our staff is far too important to risk, and I am extremely glad to have a governor who took a strong stance in the face of neglectful politicians. But to say that our students will be fine with a year off from education in their developmental years an absurd platitude meant to make us feel good. If anything, COVID is going to widen the opportunity and achievement gaps and make things more difficult for students moving forward. We shouldn’t downplay this.

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