Addressing Educational Challenges in a post-Covid-19 World

Unquestionably, COVID-19 created a new and challenging environment for NAZ to support our scholars. We needed to know what others were learning about the impacts of COVID-19 and what they were doing about it, so we reviewed emerging literature on COVID-19 as well as literature on other natural disasters (e.g., Hurricane Katrina) to give us ideas. What we learned is troubling and calls for bold action now.

We learned that students are experiencing mental health declines–more anxiety and isolation from friends, less safety, challenges adapting to distance and hybrid learning–and significant learning loss–especially great for low-income, Black and Hispanic students.  We learned that learning opportunities and instructional quality varied greatly–there are stark inequities in access to high-quality education, online or in-person. We also learned that assessing student learning with reliability and validity was significantly challenged, and that due to differences in test-taking conditions, experience taking online assessments and student motivation, interpreting and using the results is concerning.

We offer 5 recommendations to remedy the current situation:

Simultaneously address mental health and learning.  We know now that prioritizing academic concerns led to limited success and ongoing challenges in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Prioritizing social-emotional learning and mental health in the short-term and academic learning over the long-term, with trauma-informed interventions, will help students regain social and academic footing following this disruptive year.

Provide a system of integrated, individualized student support. A comprehensive review of each student’s strengths and needs across multiple domains (academic, health, social and emotional well-being, family) would allow schools and partners to provide students with individualized resources and support systems.

Address the ongoing digital divide. Online instruction will become a permanent component of contemporary education. Federal, state and local governments and entities must prioritize students with the greatest digital needs, and provide teachers with the necessary supports to provide high-quality online instruction.

Accelerate learning. Ensure age-appropriate, challenging, grade-level content as students return to learning environments. Creatively use time and opportunity – extend learning time, expand after-school and summer programming, increase subject learning time during the school day, modify instructional practices to focus on areas needing acceleration, and offer high-dosage tutoring.

Gather “opportunity to learn” data alongside academic assessment data. Include COVID-specific data, such as student access to devices and reliable broadband and time spent in distance, hybrid and in-person learning, as well as student engagement and basic demographics. Policymakers, districts and schools can then contextualize student performance and make informed decisions about allocation of resources and best practices.

For more information, read our literature reviews or our commentary published on local news site MinnPost.

This post was written by Amy Susman-Stillman, Director of Evaluation at NAZ.