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Keeping Learning Gaps from Becoming Learning Canyons

Let's face it - we pretty much knew what the results of end-of-year testing for last year were released. Things went pretty much as expected - nearly every news story in Virginia included the verb "plummet" in the headline.

Online learning, which was the reality for 25 million kids nationwide and nearly all Virginia students, was a challenge for nearly every family, and a disaster for many. Nationwide, somewhere between 1 and 3 million students simply disappeared - never enrolling, showing up, or logging in.

In an op ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, I shared some of what we now know. Last year’s statewide SOL pass rates, according to the Virginia Department of Education, fell from 78% to 69% in reading, 82% to 54% in math and 81% to 59% in science. Nationwide, a report from Curriculum Associates found that many fewer students are on grade level in reading and math compared with previous years. For Black students, the declines are roughly double (a decrease of 12% vs. 5% for white students.)

There are things we can do to keep those learning gaps from becoming learning canyons. But we have to accept that instead of going "back to school," we are moving forward to a new way of helping students learn.

  • We need better diagnostics. Teachers can't waste time teaching kids what they already know. The model here might be cancer diagnostics, which allow chemo to be tailored to an individual patient's disease. (When I had chemo 30 years ago, I got a dose of an all-purpose chemo that knocked me out for days and probably would have taken paint off the wall.)

  • Parents have to be involved and know what their kids are missing. I'm a huge fan of the Seek Common Ground Family Guides, which identify 5 - 6 key concepts in literacy and math for each grade. Hey, it's not a full scope and sequence but it's a pretty good place to start.

  • We need tutoring. Tennessee is now providing $700 per child per year to support high-intensity tutoring. We know tutoring works - EduTutorVA, a nonprofit organization I helped found during the pandemic, is making great strides.

We can help kids close those learning gaps. But we can't waste another second.

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