Here are five of the most important things to know about how the pandemic has increased summer learning loss and what we can do about it.
Every summer, some amount of learning loss will occur for most students. However, the pandemic has deepened summer learning loss in a way that can’t be ignored. But at what pace has it increased, and what can we do about it? We have collected five of the most important ways the COVID-19 pandemic has increased summer learning loss.
- 1. Starting behind the curve
While teachers and administrators expect their students to arrive back into their classrooms with a certain level of learning loss after the summer, this year will be different. The virus has affected the past two school years by taking away valuable instructional time and imposing new rules. So when learners left for break, they were already behind.
According to McKinsey, “by the end of the 2020-21 school year, students were on average five months behind in math and fourth months behind in reading.” So pupils left the classroom five months behind in critical subjects, only to fall further behind.
Typically, students forget some of the things they once understood during their summer break. According to The American Educational Research Journal, the average student lost 17-34% of the past year’s learning gains. Furthermore, the same study reported that those with a high level of learning loss during one summer are more likely to fall behind in the coming summers.
- 2. Summer school is impacted.
Instructional time also happens during the warmer months and is there to help students who fall behind during the school year catch up. But the pandemic has impacted summer programs, leaving learners struggling to have an acceptable level of comprehension.
According to a study by the Educational Development Center(EDC), most districts couldn’t offer summer programs during the pandemic’s first year. Although some state and federal funding was siphoned into supporting summer programs, 2021 did not see much improvement. Access to summer enrichment is an essential component for students and is more critical than ever.
- 3. Disparity deepened
For underprivileged students, the pandemic increased the divide between them and those with privilege. The pandemic is more likely to deepen the disparity between groups for students living below the poverty line or attending schools with a low educational budget. The gap continues outside the classroom into summer enrichment programs like camps or day programs.
For example, the National Center for Education Statistics found that “low-income students were half as likely to have access to museums and galleries and more than 30 percentage points less likely to attend a day camp than students who were not poor.”
Learning gaps or unfinished learning are inequitable for many different reasons. Specific demographics, such as students of color and low-income students, are disproportionately affected. Let’s look at a study from McKinsey that has some complex data to back up these claims:
- The Majority of Black schools: ended the year six months behind in math and reading.
- Most white schools: ended the year three months back in math and reading.
This study looked at learning loss from the pandemic in general. Add in the expected 34 percent loss of learning that might happen over summer break, and you see an even deeper gap between the privileged and underprivileged groups. In addition, some students lack the at-home support to help them bounce back from a rough pandemic year.
The factors that impact learning gaps are hard to pin down, but they are essential to consider. It is especially true when teachers and instructors have to say goodbye to their students for a few months.
- 4. The mental health crisis continues.
The youth’s mental health has been slipping for many years, and the pandemic introduced a new layer to work through. Many summer programs focus on learning recovery, but there is a severe need for them to include mental health support.
A study by Grace George, Janean Dilworth-Bart, and Ryan Herring reported the “potential socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on neural development, mental health, and l-12 educational achievement.” The main finding is that ongoing or chronic stress caused by the pandemic, from financial instability to reduced social to educational engagement, can ultimately interfere with neurological development.
Indeed, stress can be costly to memory and learning capability. In addition, these issues can deepen the learning loss that already exists during summer break. In some situations, a student’s stress level is compounded by home-life stress related to the pandemic.
- 5. Staffing issues
The pandemic has impacted the staffing of educational institutions, which has continued to bleed into the summer when school programs still need qualified teachers to support students in the off months.
An EDC study found that few school districts have summer-specific educational training programs. However, according to the study, “The heightened attention on meeting students’ needs combined with substantial federal investments can support students’ development, help them to stay connected to peers and their community, and expand their learning opportunities.”