It’s going to take more than one semester to fix the ‘COVID slide’

Claudio Estrada is principal of PUC Community Charter Middle School in Lakeview Terrace, California, and Mariana Aguilar leads the research team at GoGuardian, an education technology company.

The spring 2020 semester is coming to a close. It’s time to step back and examine where we’re at, so we can effectively determine just how much we’ll have to make up in the fall semester and beyond.

First, an acknowledgement. Everyone — from students, to parents, to teachers and administrators — has been doing their best to make this semester as academically rigorous as possible under unbelievably difficult circumstances.

Administrators have moved heaven and earth to close the digital divide by taking swift action to increase the availability of devices and hotspots. Teachers have adopted new instructional tools and adapted their curriculum for online learning all while upskilling to meet the demands of new technology along the way.

Parents have juggled protecting their children from the virus, supported them in this new digital learning environment, all while balancing their career demands (if they’re still employed). And kids have been resilient at times, overwhelmed at times and downright heroic most of the time.

Now it’s time to take account of where we stand academically in comparison to last year, and how much we’ve lost in comparison to the typical summer. The data is not promising.

Over a normal summer break, research has shown that students can typically lose anywhere from two weeks to two months of academic growth, in what’s been dubbed the “summer slide.”

But a recent report by the Northwest Evaluation Association suggests student learning loss from closures due to the pandemic will exacerbate this issue. For reading, students will likely retain only about 70% of their progress compared to a normal year. Their math retention will be even worse. Depending on the grade level, students could lose from a half-year to a full year of academic growth in mathematics. This issue is further exacerbated for socioeconomically disadvantaged students and school communities where access to reliable internet and devices for remote learning is less certain.

Take steps now

This massive backlog in academic achievement across the country cannot be ignored. We also cannot just chalk up a semester as “lost,” because each semester builds on the semesters that proceed it. We must take steps now to keep this pandemic from impacting our children academically for years to come.

This problem likely seems nearly insurmountable for teachers and administrators. But while each school district has to find their own solution that works best, there are a few key criteria that can help mitigate the “COVID slide:”

  • Don’t wait. Whether you are a district administrator, school leader or teacher, start your planning process earlier than you typically would. Do as much as you can before this year ends to prepare for the fall semester.

  • Assess. If you can, administer an assessment that you can compare to a typical end-of-year assessment for your class, school or school district. While statewide standardized tests may not occur, implementing any type of assessment that you can compare to last year can at least begin to serve as a benchmark. These comparisons can enable you to effectively gauge how much additional time a selected cohort of students may need to catch up to the typical growth made in a school year. 

    If comparison points are not possible, administering a digital assessment at the end of the year can at least provide a snapshot of a student’s current state of mastery. These insights can help teachers plan their scope and sequence to address the gaps for the incoming class in Fall 2020.

    If you’re a parent, you can find diagnostic tests online that can identify exactly which standards your child has mastered and which they have not. These insights can be immensely valuable to understanding exactly where your child needs help. 


  • Adjust. Based on the data, adjust curricular plans accordingly. No curriculum or scope and sequence for Fall 2020 should be the same as Fall 2019. Everyone will need to make adjustments. The question is not if but what standards will need to be backfilled if we are to reclaim the time loss and ensure our students acquire the critical skills necessary for long-term success. Realistically, we should also expect to be making adjustments to the end of the 2020-21 school year because these losses will likely take more than one semester to fix. 

This isn’t a simple problem, and even with an organized curriculum planning process, this will be a difficult road ahead. But the good news is that both students and teachers have shown incredible resilience and creativity thus far in addressing this pandemic. And we can expect that they’ll continue to rise to the challenge in the months to come.

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