Canadian researcher predicts learning shortfalls of up to a year due to COVID-19 disruptions

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Canadian researcher predicts learning shortfalls of up to 1 year due to COVID-19 disruptions
As kids return for the new school year, Edmonton's Catholic school board says its teachers will be assessing students to figure out who is behind due to the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Kendra Slugoski explains, it comes as a Canadian researcher predicts learning setbacks by up to a year – Aug 24, 2021

Students and teachers across the country will soon be back in class for the new school year.

Along with settling into a routine and getting to know their new class, teachers will be assessing any potential COVID-19 learning setbacks.

In the Edmonton Catholic School district, three of its schools have already returned for year-round schooling, giving educators some early insight to where students are at in their learning.

Nicole Lafreniere, director of curriculum for Edmonton Catholic Schools, said every teacher in the district is learning how to assess and screen for gaps in literacy and numeracy and “missed learning.”

“We’re really being very careful not to call it learning loss,” said Lafreniere.

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“We know that they haven’t necessarily lost anything. They have missed out on some learning opportunities. You can’t lose what you didn’t already have.”

In the early grades, teachers will be checking reading ability and for basic building blocks in math.

“We’re going to see really targeted instruction,” said Lafreniere, “Hopefully a maximization of instructional time. So, we’re teaching from the bell to the bell.”

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She added teachers have always used the start of the school year to determine if students need more support, but the collection of this year’s data will be helpful in the classroom.

“We’ve become increasingly intentional through COVID, so we have some very very specific tests that we’ve developed.”

At the junior high and high school level, that pre-assessment may mean more work for students to get caught up. Lafreniere added parents can help by making sure their children have a quiet study space and spend time reviewing material at home.

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She said students should expect to spend 10 minutes for every grade. In Grade 7, that would mean 70 minutes and in Grade 12, 120 minutes — or two hours.

Janice Aurini, a sociology professor and researcher at the University of Waterloo, said she has no doubt Canadian students have fallen behind.

Her research on summer setbacks has shown a decline in learning. Months of COVID class disruptions could add to that.

“We know that if summer vacation, which is only eight or 10 weeks, can erode children’s literacy numeracy skills. Surely ongoing school disruptions could only serve to worsen those loses,” Aurini said.

Aurini said while there is a lack of Canadian data for online learning and comparing pre-COVID schooling to the past year and a half, international studies paint a troubling picture.

“In Brazil, research has shown that kids are dropping out at a much higher rate and that they learned about a quarter compared to what previous cohorts were learning in an in-person environment,” she said.

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While Aurini said students did learn other skills with online instruction, she is “fairly confident that their literacy and numeracy skills were negatively impacted.

“The good news is we have a lot of things we can put in place or extend to shore up those losses.”

Aurini said schools or parents are not to blame for the gaps in learning. But she stressed now is time to identify the students who are struggling and provide them with immediate supports during and after school hours.

“There’s sort of a mystery about at what point do kids have more difficulty springing back,” the University of Waterloo researcher said. “Most of that learning recovery can and does happen during school calendar.”

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Aurini said educators and health leaders must balance the potential risks of COVID-19 with emerging research about the negative impacts of school closures and remote learning.

“Teachers have their eyes wide open and they know what they’re walking into in September.”

Lafreniere said it’s important not to make broad generalizations about a classroom or grade.

“I don’t think we’re going to by saying, ‘This group of kids who were in Grade 2 in 2021, ten years from now are going to be tremendously behind when they graduate,’” the curriculum developer said.

“We know that there has been some missed learning, but we also know that kids are resilient.”

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