Giving Compass' Take:

• Research indicates that COVID-19 will cause learning losses in the upcoming school year, and there will be a widening of the academic achievement gap that educators need to prepare for. 

• How can school districts prepare for these learning losses now? 

• Read about the long-term impacts on education in 2020.

As they attempt to plan for anticipated student learning losses next year, teachers and school administrators need to prepare for an additional pandemic-related challenge: Students in individual classrooms are likely to show up with a dizzyingly wide range of academic abilities.

Before pandemic-related school closures, a single classroom could have students working at up to seven grade levels. New research conducted by the nonprofit assessment organization NWEA predicts that teachers are likely to see an even broader array of achievement gaps when schools reopen.

Although the researchers can’t project how many grade levels might be represented in the average classroom at the start of the next academic year, they say the number of students at the extremes is likely to grow. The lowest-achieving kids may fall two more years behind.

The researchers, working in conjunction with Texas A&M, Johns Hopkins and Duke universities and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, arrived at the prediction using data from schools in the 10 states with the highest participation in NWEA’s MAP assessment, formerly known as the Measures of Academic Progress. Of 375,000 fifth-graders in those states in 2016, one-third scored at or below third grade in math, one-third at fourth grade, one-fourth at fifth and 10 percent above grade level, according to Karen Rambo-Hernandez, an associate professor at Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development.

In April, NWEA’s Collaborative for Student Growth Research Center released research suggesting that on average, students next fall are likely to retain about 70 percent of this year’s gains in reading and less than 50 percent in math. Losses are likely to be more pronounced in the early grades, when students normally acquire many basic skills, and among those already facing steep inequities.

Effectively reaching all students with such varied learning needs — including children in special education and English learners — in a single classroom is a huge challenge under any circumstances. But now, especially without spring exams to guide them, schools will have no idea on day one of the 2020-21 school year what the array of needs in each class is.

Read the full article about COVID-19 learning losses by Beth Hawkins at The 74.