As California figures out how to transition from distance learning to safely reopening schools, we must also figure out how to provide the extra support that kids need to recover, catch up academically, and thrive. Researchers are already seeing widespread mental health needs and estimate that a majority of CA public school students will need to catch up by an extra year or more. In this blog series, you will learn how the pandemic is affecting all students and the impact of learning loss on students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities. You will also learn about effective solutions to reverse learning loss. The actions we take now will have a major impact on our children’s futures.

This past year, students got different amounts and quality of instruction. Students from high-income families with access to technology, better support at home, tutoring, and other resources have the advantage to meet important academic milestones. Students from low-income families without the same resources are more likely to struggle in meeting grade-level milestones.

“My daughter spends hours every day trying to learn on her own… But we see our daughter falling behind and know it’s taking a toll. She told my husband one night that she’ll never be able to reach her dream of being an astronaut if she is not learning anything at school.”
Vicenta, parent of LAUSD 2nd grader

The purpose of this blog is to give information about the impact distance learning had on academic milestones. In an upcoming blog, we will do a deep dive into the effect of the pandemic on social-emotional learning.

Assessments and academic milestones

Unfortunately, we do not have the data to find out how much children learned because many districts in the state canceled testing during the pandemic. This makes it important for schools to assess students as soon as possible so that teachers know what needs to be learned. That way parents, community partners, and schools can work together to provide students with resources to catch up and meet key academic milestones.

Different states use different standards to define grade-level completion. In this blog, we are going to be referring to the Common Core State Standards that are used across California.

Students Missed Critical Milestones

Missing foundational skills such as reading and algebra put students at a serious disadvantage in high school and college. Schools, community partners, and parents must work together to provide students with the necessary resources to help them recover and thrive. In an upcoming blog, we will cover accelerated learning as a strategy to address learning loss.

When students miss critical academic milestones, they fall behind, and struggle even more the following year

Let’s take Preet for example. Preet was in third grade when schools closed in March of 2020. As a third grader, Preet was supposed to master his reading skills. For most of the school year, Preet barely participated in his classes. During synchronous learning, Preet joined his online classes but left his camera turned off and played video games instead. Preet’s teacher knew he was online during class but was not sure if he was paying attention. Preet did not receive any additional one-on-one support from his teacher, making him feel even more disconnected. His teacher gave all third graders that were ‘present’ during class and submitted assignments a ‘passing’ grade – even if students disengaged or if they submitted incomplete work.

Young Indian Boy Gaming Instead of Distance Learning

Over the past year, we’ve heard hundreds of parents across California share how the pandemic and distance learning are affecting their children’s present and potentially their future. Learn more about what parents are pushing legislators to prioritize here.

This year, Preet is in fourth grade this year and he is struggling, even more. Fourth grade curriculum requires that students know how to read to access the content. Since Preet missed out on learning this critical foundational skill in third grade, he is falling further behind this year.

Black, Latino, and low-income students will not only experience 12-16 months of learning loss, but they will also be missing out on academic milestones that are critical in being able to learn in the next school year. These milestones prepare students to graduate from high school and qualify for 4-year universities. The pandemic has compromised this opportunity for a generation of students.

[1] Linda Jacobson, One Year into Pandemic, Far Fewer Students are on Target to Learn How to Read, Tests Show, The 74 Million, February 24, 2021.
[2] Amplify, COVID-19 means more students not learning to read, Core Knowledge Foundation, February 2021.
[3] American Federation of Teachers, Waiting Rarely Works: Late Bloomers Usually Just Wilt, 2004.
*The data for White demographic is not reported. Given the trends, there is likely a gap between the demographics in 2020-21 as well (Black, Latino, and White).
[4] Amplify, COVID-19 means more students not learning to read, Core Knowledge Foundation, February 2021.
[5] Amanda Morin, Developmental milestones for second and third graders, Understood For All, 2020.
[6] Gail Robinson, What’s so important about 3rd grade?, Great Schools, March 24, 2014.
[7] Michelle Kaffenberger, Modelling the long-run learning impact of the Covid-19 learning shock: Actions to (more than) mitigate loss, International Journal of Educational Development, March 2021.
[8] Gail Robinson, What’s so important about 3rd grade?, Great Schools, March 24, 2014.
[9] Donald J. Hernandez, Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, January 1, 2012.
[10] California Department of Education, Overview of the Standards Chapters of the Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade 12, 2015.
[11] California Department of Education, State Accountability Report Card 2018-19, February 2021.
[12] National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Current Term Enrollment Estimates: Spring 2021, June 10, 2021.

Innovate Public Schools is a nonprofit community organization that builds the capacity of parents and educators working together to create excellent and equitable public schools.