Do You Think You Have Experienced ‘Learning Loss’ During the Pandemic?

Do You Think You Have Experienced ‘Learning Loss’ During the Pandemic?

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

There is currently “a roiling debate in education, about how and even whether to measure the academic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation’s children — and how to describe learning gaps without stigmatizing or discouraging students and families,” Dana Goldstein writes.

Are you aware of this debate? How does it apply to you? Do you think you have learned significantly less this past year than you might have if the pandemic had never happened? As you answer, consider “learning” to make up not just the skills and content you are introduced to in school, but also what you learn outside of school.

Then, read about the debate. In the article “Does It Hurt Children to Measure Pandemic Learning Loss?,” Ms. Goldstein looks most closely at younger children, but the larger issues raised also concern teenagers:

Studies continue to show that amid the school closures and economic and health hardships of the past year, many young children have missed out on mastering fundamental reading and math skills. The Biden administration has told most states that unlike in 2020, they should plan on testing students this year, in part to measure the “educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

But others are pushing back against the concept of “learning loss,” especially on behalf of the Black, Hispanic and low-income children who, research shows, have fallen further behind over the past year. They fear that a focus on what’s been lost could incite a moral panic that paints an entire generation as broken, and say that relatively simple, common-sense solutions can help students get back up to speed.

“This isn’t a lost generation,” said Kayla Patrick, a policy analyst at the Education Trust, a national advocacy group focused on low-income students and students of color. “They just need extra support — in many cases, the support they probably needed before the pandemic, like tutoring.”

Others go further, arguing that regardless of what terminology is used, standardized testing to measure the impact of the pandemic is unnecessary or even actively harmful. Voices as prominent as the former New York City schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest educators’ union, have encouraged parents to opt their children out of state tests during the pandemic. “We do not want to impose additional trauma on students that have already been traumatized,” Mr. Carranza said.

The piece continues:

Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle high school teacher and writer, said testing to measure the impact of the pandemic misses what students have learned outside of physical classrooms during a year of overlapping crises in health, politics and police violence.

“They are learning about how our society works, how racism is used to divide,” he said. “They are learning about the failure of government to respond to the pandemic.”

Mr. Hagopian said he believed that “learning loss” research was being used to “prop up the multi-billion-dollar industry of standardized testing” and “rush educators back into classrooms before it’s safe to do so.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What is your reaction to this debate? Do you think you, personally, have experienced learning loss this past year? If so, what do you think you would have learned if not for the pandemic? If not, why not?

  • Would you answer the questions above differently for other students you know well, like your siblings or close friends? Do you think the age of the student makes a difference in how the past year has affected the learning experience?

  • Are there things you learned this year that you would not have without the pandemic and its disruption of normal life? What did you learn, and how valuable is that knowledge to you, if so?

  • Do you agree with the Seattle high school teacher quoted above who says that testing to measure the effects of the pandemic misses what students have learned during a year of overlapping crises in health, politics and police violence, such as “how our society works, how racism is used to divide” and how the U.S. government responded to the pandemic? If so, how valuable are those “real life” lessons to you?

  • Do you think standardized testing to measure the effects of the pandemic is “unnecessary or even actively harmful” this year — or, do you think schools need to administer those tests to see where students stand? Will you be taking standardized tests this spring?

  • If you do feel that you have experienced learning loss this year, how should your school respond to that? What do you think the best way to catch up might be?

  • What do you need from school right now? What do you think you and other students your age will need when you return to full-time in-person learning, if you haven’t already? Why?

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.