Response from “Ask Former Trustees – Clear Creek ISD Chapter”: Joanna Baleson, Ken Baliker, Jennifer Broddle, Bob Davee, Glenn Freedman, Ann Hammond, Charlie Pond, Page Rander, Dee Scott, Win Weber

COVID Learning Loss or Interrupted Learning

Arguably this is one of the most widespread, yet misunderstood and misapplied, concepts to emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The phrase itself implies that students didn’t learn anything at all once schools were closed in March 2020. Worse yet, it implies that not only did students not learn anything, but they also didn’t retain information they previously learned.”

In practical terms, the ‘loss’ reflects an imaginary arc from a student’s present knowledge and skills base to a previously imaginary future state of knowledge and skills. 

Because the pre-COVID imaginary state is not reached, some people say that is a learning loss, according to Professor Rachael Gabriel of the University of Connecticut.  In a Washington Post article, Gabriel notes, “It is loss of a previously imagined trajectory leading to a previously imagined future. Learning is never lost, though it may not always be “found” on pre-written tests of pre-specified knowledge or preexisting measures of pre-coronavirus notions of achievement.”

Therefore, a more accurate term might be ‘interrupted learning.’ What students certainly have experienced is a significant interruption, a loss of their school community, stable learning environment, and the school’s routines.

Is ‘learning loss’ a complicated concept?

Yes, but the whole COVID environment we have experienced is complex. Students may have endured many types of loss – the loss of family, friends, daily routines, social stability, socialization, and so forth. 

Plus, students have also experienced additions – isolation, stress, new instructional patterns, shifting health requirements, technology-based interactions with others and that list goes on and on as well. 

On the plus side, students have developed resiliency, flexibility, and creativity in handling different ways to learn.

Why is this clarification important?

Students, teachers, and parents are hearing that the pandemic has led to disastrous educational gaps.

Common sense tells us that no two children are alike, no two home situations are exactly alike, no two parental support systems are exactly alike, and no two school districts’ remote learning, return-to-school and ‘return-to-normal’ models are exactly alike.

Consequently, we may conclude that the theoretical notion of ‘learning loss,’ combined with the real-world differences in students’ pandemic-related situations means teachers jobs are even more challenging as we return to more recognizable educational settings.

Further, the need for mental and emotional support systems for students and teachers adds to the complexity of the COVID impact.

Why ‘more challenging’?

Teachers will need to disregard meaningless jargon (like learning loss) and focus on grade-appropriate learning standards by assessing each student’s capabilities. 

This is a long, difficult process that school boards, parents, and administrators have to respect, as it takes time to be sure each student is understood and instruction is appropriately designed.

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