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By Kelsey Jern • August 31, 2022

How Far Behind Are Students Really? 3 Tips for School Leaders

There’s no denying the pandemic negatively impacted students’ education. In 2020-2021, missed learning caused students to fall, on average, 5 months behind in math and 4 months behind in reading.

However, new research released by NWEA revealed that academic gains made during the 2021-22 school year largely paralleled pre-pandemic trends and outpaced the year prior. While significant gaps still persist, this academic rebound is a promising sign that many students are recovering and making progress.

Because of this, it’s important that educators not fall back on the assumption that all students are behind due to the pandemic, but instead take steps to understand where each student is at and target the specific skills or standards that are most needed. 

Below are 3 suggestions for school and district leaders to help identify the impact of missed learning and implement intervention strategies that work. Download the full guide here for even more suggestions and resources.

1. Implement standards-based reporting

2. Apply strategy to small group intervention

3. Monitor progress by way of student engagement

1. Implement standards-based reporting

eSpark student progress report

Standards-based reports provide detailed information about a student’s proficiency on each standard or skill they need to learn. This empowers teachers with the information they need to support any given student, and empowers administrators with data that can be aggregated to show progress at the school or district level.

As students work their way through a skill, teachers should be collecting data from their assessments and analyzing trends – but time is limited. Tools that support standards-based reporting will save teachers time and identify insights for them to act on in the classroom.

Standards-based reporting tools can help educators:

  • See an individual student’s mastery across standards to identify their personal gaps
  • See whole class averages on one particular standard to find universal gaps
  • Sort students by mastery levels for effective groupings and interventions
  • Share reports with parents to communicate progress and expectations clearly

2. Apply strategy to small group intervention

Students and teacher talking

Small group time is a great opportunity for teachers to intervene with students who need support on a shared concept or skill. Among teachers surveyed in July 2022, 52% said they believed “consistent small group instruction” was one of the most important factors that could help students close learning gaps caused by the pandemic.

But if teachers are tasked with leading effective small groups, it’s only fair they receive training on best practices and are provided with clear expectations on outcomes.

There are many types of instructional groupings that can be used, as well as various strategies to use during group time. For example, if a school follows a mastery-based learning framework, small group time should be used for work on mastery-based choice boards. Students work at their own pace and execute choice to select the activities in which they will show their mastery of a certain skill. Once they demonstrate mastery, they can move on to the next standard.

Another prominent strategy being leveraged by educators is the idea of flexible grouping. Leaders may consider placing a school-wide or district-wide emphasis on this strategy, which involves the use of data to frequently adjust small groups and best meet student needs. It can also reduce the stigma faced by students who work more often with their teacher compared to their peers.

3. Monitor progress by way of student engagement

Student holding assignmentMany schools and districts care deeply about keeping students engaged in their learning but do not have an effective way to measure engagement. But if students are not engaging in the intervention strategies used by their teachers, are they really benefiting?

One way to measure student engagement is to track minutes spent on a given lesson. For example, if a student only spends 2 minutes completing an online assignment meant to take 10, this might indicate they’re rushing through it because the content is too challenging or too easy. Monitoring these minutes will create opportunities for teachers to dig in further and learn more about each student on an individual level.

Some online learning platforms can even track engagement and student minutes on behalf of teachers, which is also helpful for admins looking to determine which programs are used the most and are worth paying for versus programs that aren’t being used with fidelity.

For more information on these suggestions and additional resources, download the full guide here for free.


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