Following years of disrupted learning during the pandemic, the recently released Nation’s Report Card shows an overall drop in both reading and math scores, with math scores falling in nearly every state.
This dismal news further intensifies the pressure on district leaders to address learning gaps exacerbated by the pandemic, all while more than half of schools report teacher and staffing shortages.
Recent headlines suggest it will take until 2028 for students to recover from these pandemic-related achievement declines. Others say it will take decades.
The truth is we cannot afford to wait decades or even a few years to help students bounce back. The ripple effect of inaction could be far-reaching for this generation of learners.
Though there are big hurdles to overcome, I believe there are four effective approaches that we can implement right now to accelerate pandemic recovery and, importantly, ensure our students’ futures, regardless of race, gender or ZIP code, remain bright.
Expand Job-Embedded Training Programs and Professional Learning for Teachers
Today, staffing shortages have forced many districts to find sub-optimal interim solutions such as implementing a four-day school week, increasing class sizes, placing uncertified teachers in classrooms, relying on substitute teachers to commit to long-term postings, or asking already overburdened veteran teachers to take on more.
If we don’t empower educators by providing support, skills and relevant, job-embedded professional learning, we risk that too few teachers will join and remain in the profession. We must invest in our teachers.
Educators, particularly those entering the field with insufficient training or experience, need immediate access to job-embedded and asynchronous professional development that they can access easily and on their own schedule.
These professional learning opportunities, which can be driven and supported by innovative technology tools such as New Perspectives Online and Defined Learning, should include continuous modules and on-demand experiences where teachers can learn how to gather insights about student learning and use them to personalize instruction. To do this, teachers need quick insights in the form of reports that are understandable “at a glance” and consider the individualized progression of student learning.
Provide a Simplified View of Deeper Data Insights
Curriculum providers can offer teachers instructional guidance connected to their students’ growth and proficiency data. But we need to remember that teachers don’t want to be data analysts. They want to teach. The most effective solutions for teachers are those that help them easily translate insights into action.
Data should be used not only to determine where students are in their learning and where they need to grow, but also offer lessons that will help students catch up to grade-level content if needed.
Education technology with built-in lesson recommendations, like WordFlight, can provide teachers with instant access to a detailed view of each student’s progress, including insights about which concepts or skills students should learn next and which of their classmates are ready to learn those concepts too.
Substantive insights for teachers, rather than just numerical reports, will require less time spent decoding data. These insights should be generated continually while students learn, drawing on data from the thought process behind students’ answers to underscore areas of strength as well as gaps in comprehension.
Scale Tutoring for the 1:1 Experience
Scaled tutoring strategies can save teachers from needing to be in 30 places at once delivering 30 unique and personalized lessons. Education technology solutions can be tapped to support every student, no matter where they are—whether they’re working with a certified teacher or an uncredentialed one, or whether they’re homeschooled or in a traditional classroom with 29 other students.
Tutoring at scale, with the help of education technology solutions like Subject or Outlier, can support individualized learning pathways that are age- and grade-agnostic to match each learner’s readiness. Just as tutoring has always been a part of education support systems, these online options can provide more opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom.
Focus on Pathway to Learning Instead of Right and Wrong Answers
How do we measure the effectiveness of improving achievement and closing learning gaps?
Robust, accurate measurements cannot be done in the silo of summative assessments that capture only one moment in time based on whether a student gets the answers to multiple choice questions right or wrong. We need to continue to lean into new paradigms of learning where instructional curriculum is integrated into formative assessment that frequently evaluates students’ comprehension and growth over time in deeper ways.
We should equip teachers with tools like DreamBox Math and DreamBox Reading (which my company created) to assess how a student is thinking. If a student is getting a question “wrong,” richer information about how the student is solving problems can help their teacher more effectively intervene to support them.
For math problems, technology can capture students’ problem-solving processes so that their teacher can play back the approach step-by-step.A similar method exists for reading. Though it may seem challenging to assess a student’s skills beyond reading comprehension questions, technology can be used to measure contributing factors, such as their silent reading fluency.
Moving forward, classroom technology should support teachers when and where they need it, helping them understand the most effective use of technology resources and data without overwhelming them. They should also ensure that classroom tools provide engaging, relevant, personalized and effective experiences for students.
Education technology partners have a crucial role to play in helping teachers scale personalized learning solutions in manageable ways by providing materials and lesson recommendations that are not only appropriate for individual students’ readiness, but also tailored to their interests, thus making the long road ahead a bit shorter no matter where students may start.
If we get this right, we may even inspire a life-long love of learning that will serve students throughout their learning and professional lives.