Five Best Practices for Addressing Learning Gaps
Across the country, parents, educators, and digital curriculum providers have been addressing learning gaps and inequities for years. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, turning that talk into action has become more important than ever.
In a span of 12 months, the pandemic not only shined a spotlight on these, but widened them, causing the most vulnerable students to decelerate even further. According to an analyst at McKinsey & Company, by the end of the 2020/2021 academic year, students experienced up to nine months of learning loss in math, with students of color suffering up to 12. And in a recent blog, Apex Learning’s Chief Academic Officer Jean Sharp explained how the anticipated scale of learning recovery needs will look completely different this year.
Now more than ever, partnering with the right curriculum provider is critical to your students’ success. However, not all providers are the same, especially in the race to bring resources to the market to support district needs.
To help every student progress toward grade-level expectations, your digital curriculum provider should adhere to the following best practices that address and accelerate learning recovery in your school district.
1. Efficient Identification of Critical Learning Gaps
Most mandated state and federal testing was eliminated during the pandemic, which reinforced many educators’ beliefs that equity gaps in learning limited the value of the tests. A panel of experts from the Center for Reinventing Public Education agreed that, instead, “the priority should be on assessments closest to classroom instruction that help teachers know what to do next.”
Most traditional, long-form placement tests from digital curriculum providers establish a grade-level equivalent for a student without alerting districts to identify potential learning problems. Alternately, short, skill-focused pretests should help to quickly identify skill gaps that teachers can immediately address.
This focused, topic-by-topic approach helps teachers know exactly where each student is before beginning instruction.
2. Prerequisite Instruction Tied to Grade-Level Goals
Look for curriculum partners that pave learning paths focused on the most critical prerequisite skills for grade-level success. Too often, struggling students are dropped down to lower levels of educational content that never expose them to on-grade skills.
Tutorials help teachers employ remediation strategies targeted specifically to the needs of students, which are immediately followed by grade-level instruction so they can apply what they’ve learned. With this pragmatic approach, teachers accelerate their students’ learning and students progress more quickly.
After a year of learning remotely, students will quickly tune out if the curriculum doesn’t capture their attention. Students should not just “sit and get” as they would with passive video content. They need to continuously interact with the content and apply what they’ve learned to build context and connections.
Bite-sized chunks of instruction, a wealth of embedded scaffolds and support, and formative, answer-specific feedback create captivating environments that engage, educate, and entertain students to maximize outcomes. In fact, Michigan State University found that when the right subject matter and interactive elements are in place, online learning is just as effective as face-to-face learning.
4. Data and Flexibility That Makes Educators’ Lives Easier
Teachers play an essential role in identifying learning gaps, but for the past year, digital barriers have obstructed their line of sight. Multiple educational platforms, required proprietary hardware, and a lack of integration between systems mean educators are devoting more time to administrative duties and less time to lesson plans.
Digital instruction should build on what educators are teaching in the classroom and provide them with real-time, actionable data regarding the progress and performance of each student. And when their district adopts a digital ecosystem in which all curriculum platforms seamlessly communicate with one another, the aggregated data is even richer and more accessible.
5. Proof it Works
Any digital curriculum provider can say their solutions are successful, but a true educational partner will deliver research-based proof that their curriculum empowers students and elevates their learning. When vetting providers, ask for third-party efficacy studies that compare the success of students who used the program to those who didn’t.
Potential partners should also be able to provide student growth and progress data based on high-stakes assessments.