The Impact of Pandemic Learning Loss and How to Help Your Student

Data shows significant declines in math and reading proficiency due to pandemic learning loss. Two educators share what they’re seeing, what it means and how to support your student.

As data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress — also known as the nation’s report card — begins to roll out, parents and educators are getting a look at numbers that largely confirm what they already suspected. Pandemic learning loss is significant.

Broadly, pandemic disruption caused math and reading scores to plummet across the country. Educators at the Chicago-based tutoring and test-prep company Academic Approach say they’re seeing parallels among the students they support. However, the fact that every student received a different version of pandemic education means some students fared worse than others.

“The impacts were greater for those who were already struggling academically,” says Carla Pedersen, Regional Director at Academic Approach. “Students had different levels of support throughout the process and different levels of intervention.” According to Associated Press reporting, Illinois public school students spent, on average, 36.8% of the 2020-21 school year in virtual learning and nearly 36% in hybrid learning.

According to the 2022 report card, only 27% of Illinois eighth-grade students are proficient in math and 32% in reading. In 2019, 34% were proficient in math and 35% in reading. These numbers are fairly consistent with national data.

Impact of pandemic learning loss

What does all this learning loss actually mean for students and families? In math, a student who is missing key concepts may struggle to move on to the next level, says Andrew Ferguson, Academic Approach’s Director of Client Services.

“For math, everything builds. But there’s also a level of problem solving, applied thinking and logic that comes with math,” says Ferguson. No matter their age, students who have missed a year of practice using these fundamental skills will need to work hard to progress.

“Studies indicate that this loss can be supplemented, but it will take effort by the student. The capability to problem solve a year ago will help a student problem solve the next year,” he explains. For eighth-grade students, in particular, missing foundational math skills can present challenges for high school achievement.

The decrease in reading proficiency is less severe, and that may be due to the fact that reading material is plentiful and accessible — and parents are more able to support their child’s reading at home than they are able to support their child’s math progress.

“When we think about math, we’ve been using paper and pencil forever. When technology advances, does that change the way we do math? Only a little bit. Reading, on the other hand, has changed dramatically, both in how we read and what we read,” Ferguson says. “Teachers want to expose students to well-written material, which they can do on their phones, iPads or a book. Changing to a digital reading format may have contributed to declining reading scores as students must learn, or re-learn, how to comprehensively read on a screen.”

Unfortunately, what makes the drop in reading and math scores so concerning is the fact that once a student falls behind, if they don’t catch up quickly, they will continue to fall further behind. “It’s a compounding problem,” Pedersen says.

Referring to a breakdown of fourth grade reading comprehension scores, Pedersen points out that while inner-city reading scores didn’t drop as precipitously as suburban scores, the urban numbers were low prior to the pandemic. “They were still much further behind,” she says. “Math, however, dropped for every location.”

How to get help for learning loss

If you suspect your child is behind academically—or know they just didn’t thrive in the virtual or hybrid classroom—your first step is to find out where they could use extra support.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that because your child has never previously struggled academically, they’re not feeling behind or lost right now, Ferguson cautions. “Look out for those students who have never struggled before and haven’t had to ask for help,” he says, adding that parents may have to advocate for this student who may not know how to reveal their newfound challenges.

This is especially true when students find themselves just one of 25 students in a classroom. “In a one-on-one setting, students can ask all the questions they want, and that’s where tutoring comes in,” he says. “Tutoring gives students the space for that individualized support, even if it’s only for one hour a week, which can aid in relearning some of that older material and helping them play catch-up a little bit.”

Right now, teachers are doing their best to bridge the gap between learning loss and progressing forward but giving your child some additional support and attention outside of the classroom can help ease that burden for everyone.

Pandemic learning loss aside, when students hit a challenging year with high academic expectations or difficult AP course material, tutoring can provide an immediate comfortable space for students to fill in the gaps and feel confident and engaged in their learning.

Regardless of whether tutoring is right for your child, be sure to reach out to your child’s teachers and school to find out how you can supplement your child’s academic opportunities. Both Ferguson and Pedersen heartily recommend taking advantage of every support available through your school.

“Tutoring is a great option but reading more and practicing writing can also help. It’s about exposure and practice,” says Pedersen. “Seek out online resources and reach out to your child’s school for additional support. They should be able to help guide you to the online resources and enrichment work that will be most relevant and beneficial for your student.”

Content sponsored by Academic Approach. Learn more at academicapproach.com.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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