COVID-19 Learning Loss: How Bad Is It and What Can You Do About It?

With the end of summer on the horizon, many families wonder what to expect from the 2021-2022 school year. After all, for most students, this will be the first relatively normal school year since March 2020. Rather than another year of “let’s just get through this together,” this school year is more likely to be the time to assess the extent of COVID-19 learning loss and start to repair it.

What Is COVID-19 Learning Loss?

Learning loss is not a new phenomenon. Every summer, students experience learning loss—in fact, studies show that on average, students lose about a month’s worth of school-year learning over summer break. When students aren’t actively engaged in the learning process, they forget things.

COVID-19 learning loss, however, is a new phenomenon. Never before have our students experienced such lengthy and unpredictable interruptions to their usual schooling. And despite the best efforts of teachers, parents, and students, digital learning during the pandemic simply was not as engaging and effective as pre-pandemic in-person learning.

How Bad Is COVID-19 Learning Loss?

We are only just now beginning to understand the extent of COVID-19 learning loss, and we may not truly understand the depth and breadth of the problem for quite some time. After all, the usual metric used to measure learning loss is standardized tests—but many states did not administer tests universally during the pandemic, and many more students than usual opted out of testing.

Among those states that did administer their usual tests, most have not publicly released the results. But the available data paints a pretty scary picture:

How Can We Address COVID-19 Learning Loss?

Many programs are already being put in place to help address learning loss nationwide. Federal funds have been earmarked to help districts implement different solutions, and the coming year will likely bring many important lessons about what kinds of academic interventions work best on a broad scale.

But on an individual level, students can and should take steps to beat COVID-19 learning loss.

Conduct an Honest Self-Assessment

Before you can solve a problem, you need to assess the problem. If you took standardized tests last year, those score reports can be a valuable tool to identify strengths and weaknesses. And if not, many states offer practice versions of their state assessments, and we offer detailed diagnostic testing at all of our C2 Education centers. By taking an on-grade test to assess your strengths and weaknesses, you can better see exactly where any learning loss occurred.

Set SMART Goals

To set yourself up for success in your battle against learning loss, set SMART goals. SMART goals are

  • Specific: What exactly will be accomplished, and what actions will you take?
  • Measurable: What data will measure your progress toward the goal?
  • Achievable: Is the goal realistic?
  • Relevant: Is the result important?
  • TimeBound: What is the time frame for accomplishing the goal?

It is not enough to simply say, “I want to get better at math.” This goal is not SMART.

Instead, we might say, “Through independent study sessions, I will review the Pythagorean theorem and geometric proofs so that I can earn at least a B+ in Algebra II in the fall.” This goal is SMART. It specifies what concepts need to be covered (Pythagorean theorem and geometric proofs), how the student plans to catch up (independent study sessions), what data will measure success (grades), why the goal is important (success in Algebra II), and an end-date for the goal (fall semester).

Master Important Study Skills

If you plan to catch up through independent study, you’ll need to equip yourself with really strong study skills. We’ve scoured the research to identify science-backed study skills:

These study skills won’t just help you beat learning loss—they’ll set you up for success in any class, from high school to college and beyond.

Gather Your Resources

If you struggled with your textbook last year, it might be time to shop around for some new resources. You might consider searching for used textbooks or buying study guides—but there are also quite a few free resources available online. Depending on what you need to study, Khan Academy can be a great place to start. For free textbooks, explore OpenStax or the Open Textbook Library.

Don’t Wait to Get Help

If you think you need help catching up, ask sooner rather than later! The longer you wait to seek help, the further behind you’ll fall, and the harder it will be to catch up. Learning loss is cumulative—it only gets worst with time.

Many teachers are happy to offer before- or after-school study sessions to help clarify specific topics for you. A study group of other students might help you to understand tricky concepts. Or you might consider turning to a tutor for support.

In fact, the benefits of tutoring are supported by science. An analysis of 96 randomized studies found that tutoring is a highly effective tool success: “In education research, such consensus is a rarity, and the consistency and magnitude of the results are remarkable.”

How Can Tutoring Help Combat COVID-19 Learning Loss?

The nation’s teachers have emerged as heroes over the past year-and-a-half. Their dedication to their students and tireless efforts to overcome unprecedented challenges are amazing.

But teachers must support the entire classroom, leaving little room for individualized instruction. Tutors, on the other hand, are able to focus on the individual student. With a tutor, you get answers to YOUR questions—not to the questions of the whole class. You get to spend extra time on the concepts YOU find challenging rather than the ones everyone else struggles with.

A tutor can meet you exactly where you are and guide you through every step until you get to where you want to be.