Learning Loss: How do I know if my kid has it?

If you are anything like me, you have been concerned about learning loss this past year, and how prepared your student(s) are to start school in the coming weeks. But how do we know if our child experienced it, and if so, to what extent? Should we be concerned?

First let’s talk about reading. This was perhaps the easiest thing to keep up with during our quarantining and remote instruction days, as it can be done for pleasure and independently. What they are reading? Check the reading level online at http://www.lexile.com for most books, or even a search on Amazon could tell you the intended audience or grade level of the book. If that fails, reach out to their English or classroom teacher from last school year and see if they can give you an idea at what level the book(s) your child has been reading are.

Second, take a look at your student’s standardized assessments results (eg. NWEA MAP, etc.)? These were required by the state last spring, so you may only have one data point from the last school year. Take a look at those results, paying attention to your student’s percentile range. Average range is typically between the 25th and 75th percentile. Don’t worry about how your child compares to the district or the school, it really isn’t relevant for this purpose. Did their percentile remain stable, decrease, or increase? In the chart below, you can see that this student declined from 62nd%ile to 57th%ile in math, and increased from 67th%ile to 70th%ile in reading from the end of the 2018-2019 school year. Now, because this student is in high school, they did not have any comparison testing for their 9th grade year, which was our first COVID year (2019-2020). Still, you get an idea of the amount of growth or loss that occured by comparing percentile ranges. This student maintained an average profile, with a slight dip in math. Should we be concerned though?

To answer this, we will need to look at other data points. Final summative assessments given in the classroom, curriculum based measures collected at school, report cards, and teacher feedback are all ways to make this determination. Talk with your student’s teachers to get the answers to some of these questions.

If you have a high school student, another place to look for learning loss is their PSAT/SAT scores. Many students took this assessment this spring, and they can be compared against prior tests using percentile range as well. We use percentile ranges because content and scoring changes from grade to grade, so straight scoring does not accurately reflect performance for these purposes. Did their percentile range remain stable, go up, go down? Below is the performance of the student mentioned above from 9th and 10th grades. Notice the scoring range is different, this is why it is important to compare using percentile range to really see change. This student remained stable and squarely in the average range overall, which means there was growth as these assessments add curriculum to them from year to year, thus the score range increases.

10th grade result – spring 2021 – post COVID
9th grade result – fall 2019 – pre-COVID

Still, it is important to delve deeper as we noted there was some concern in math above. Below, see results broken down by reading & writing and math to see if the student grew, maintained, or lost learning in each area.

9th grade section score results.
10 grade section score results

In this data dig, we can see that the student’s math score dropped 13 percentage points. This is fairly significant, and tells us that the student may need some reteaching of math concepts from their 9th and 10th grade years. Likewise, it showed an increase by seven percentage points in reading and writing, which is why the overall didn’t show much change. Taking an even deeper dive into the math reports will show us where the gaps in learning exist.

I hope this quick tutorial on reading assessments to determine your child’s learning loss was helpful. If your student experienced learning loss, what are your district and school plans for recovery? If you aren’t sure, call your school principal today to discuss their recovery plans for students, and how students can receive additional support.

Another option, should you have the means, is to hire a private tutor or take your child to a local tutoring center, like Sylvan Learning Center, to work on the specific skills that need remediating. Lastly, if it all just seems like too much, remember, all kids are in pretty much the same boat. Teachers this year will be expecting to reteach some concepts before moving forward, and colleges will likely be taking COVID into account yet again this year when reviewing applicants. It will all be okay.

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