What If Remediation Isn’t The Best Approach For Addressing Learning Loss?

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Learning loss. The COVID Slide. No matter what you call it, the debate about how to address last school year’s unfinished business is sure to be contentious. As thousands of students make their way back to classrooms this fall for the first time in months, school leaders and educators have to be on the same page when it comes to addressing learning loss. But is traditional remediation really the way out?

Typically, remediation involves teachers reviewing the content that students have missed, then using assessment data and other evidence to determine when a student has achieved “mastery” of a given standard. But the non-profit group TNTP is making waves by asserting that it’s learning acceleration, not remediation, that’s the right approach for getting students back on track.

Their plan is called “Accelerate, Don’t Remediate,” and this conversation between TNTP’s Dan Weisberg and Brightbeam’s Chris Stewart really gets into the weeds of the issue. But in short, with the acceleration approach, teachers don’t have to fret over reviewing content from prior grades. Instead, they simply start off where students should be and intervene with targeted supports when necessary. And while it may not seem conventional, new evidence suggests that students who experienced learning acceleration actually learned more than those who experienced remediation. For students of color and those from low-income households, acceleration was especially effective.

TNTP says “this is strong evidence that learning acceleration works, and that it could be key to unwinding generations-old academic inequities the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated.” And if you’re wondering what it looks like in schools, this guide provides a great overview that schools can check out for free.

Because I work in a school myself, I’m used to hearing about how important it is for teachers to lean on grade-level curriculum, tasks, and assignments. However, the learning acceleration strategy really ups the ante on this commitment. TNTP recommends using EdReports to assess whether or not a given curriculum adequately addresses the standards—and remember, effective curriculum has to be culturally and linguistically responsive as well.

If you’re wanting to accelerate student learning this year but finding resources is a challenge, you may be in luck. Thanks to the American Recovery Plan, school districts that once struggled with purchasing new instructional resources are more flush with cash than ever. Investing in strong, standards-aligned curriculum and expanding student access to devices are two powerful ways to help shore up the gaps exacerbated by the pandemic. Doing so is basically step one in the accelerated learning model.

But acceleration can’t happen with curriculum and ed tech alone. Schools have to continually collect and monitor data to identify the current grade-level content that students are likely to struggle with, then provide interventions on the spot to help keep them afloat. This method may seem radically different than most educators are familiar with, but ditching those intensive remediation efforts on the nice-to-know content allows for a deeper emphasis on the need-to-know content. Given the data we have so far on pandemic-related learning loss, schools may find value in that approach.

Or perhaps there’s an even better, entirely different way of getting kids caught up. It’s 2021, after all. Anything can happen.

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