With everything that children and families went through during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic—from devastating losses of loved ones, jobs, and homes to the constant stress and anxiety—it can be hard to talk about what kids lost in school. Academic losses seem minor in the face of so many bigger problems: After all, won’t kids just bounce back now that school is back to normal?
But when children fall behind in key subjects like reading, writing, and math, it can be incredibly hard to make up that ground—and those losses can follow students throughout their educational journeys, putting them at greater risk for dropping out of high school or college.
Here’s what parents need to know about pandemic-era learning loss:
- Students’ learned less than usual during the pandemic—especially students who spent more time in remote learning. All students lost ground during the pandemic, but the losses were worse for students who spent more time in remote learning, and for those in schools with higher poverty rates (which were often the same schools). Students in high-poverty schools lost the equivalent of 22 weeks of school. That’s more than half a school year.
- Pandemic learning losses were worse in math than reading. Students fell behind in all subjects, but the losses were more severe in math—perhaps because reading is an easier activity for families to support at home. Falling behind in math matters, because research shows that students with low test scores in math as early as third grade are at higher risk for missing big school milestones (like high school graduation) later on.
- Students are struggling in more than just academics. This isn’t news to most parents: We’ve all seen our kids struggle in one way or another as a result of the pandemic. Rates of anxiety and depression are up among young people, and many educators are reporting that it’s been harder to manage students’ behavior in school this year compared to pre-pandemic times.
So what can parents really do to support their children’s pandemic learning recovery?
Understand how your child is doing in school now.
The first and most important thing parents can do to help their kids “recover” from pandemic learning loss is to understand how they’re doing now. To start, here are three questions to ask your child’s teacher. You can also take a look at the learning standards for their current grade, to get a sense of what they should be working on in school. Finally, our friends over at Learning Heroes offer a helpful “readiness check” that can give you a sense of your child’s current reading and math skills.
Ask your principal the tough questions.
Teachers and principals have been under enormous strain—even more than usual—during the pandemic, and we’re so grateful for their hard work. (If we learned one thing during remote school, it’s that great teachers are indispensable.) But it’s still their job to answer your questions, so don’t be afraid to ask some tough ones: What is the school doing to help students make up the academic ground they lost during the pandemic? What is the plan for retaining great teachers, many of whom are burned out from the past two years? How is the school choosing to spend its pandemic recovery money?
Bring learning home, but play it cool.
There’s no need to turn home into a high-pressure environment. Reading together, spending time at the library, using fun educational apps, and playing games can all reinforce important skills without making your kids feel like you’re forcing schoolwork on them at home. (It’s a little like hiding the vegetables.)
Familiarize yourself with the support network in your child’s school.
Who’s available to help students in your school? Besides their classroom teachers, your child may also have access to literacy and math interventionists, a social worker or school psychologist, guidance counselors, school nurses, and others. If you’re not sure who those adults are and how they might be able to help your kid, now is a great time to find out. Your school’s family liaison is a good place to start if you have questions about who’s who and how to get in touch with them.
Don’t be afraid to ask if you think your child needs additional support.
If you have concerns that your child needs more support than they’re getting, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s your right to request an evaluation for your child if you have concerns about their learning. And if your child already has an Individual Education Plan, school is legally required to provide the accommodations listed in it—even during challenging pandemic times.
National PTA Parents' Guide to Success
The National PTA offers these year-by-year guides to help parents understand what their kids should be working on in school.
Run by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this parenting website focuses on, well, healthy children. Check out their resources for navigating conversations about puberty and much more.
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