From setbacks to success: How educators adapted to tackle learning loss

Sept. 21, 2023, 1:02 p.m. | By Caleb Elazar | 8 months, 1 week ago

Teachers adjusted their curricula and teaching practices for the benefit of their students

Tolerance for things such as turning in late work or allowing multiple reassessments has been on the rise for many teachers. Photo courtesy of Gabe Marra-Perrault.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on different aspects of society, with education being one area hit hard. When school doors shut and learning shifted virtual, everyone faced unprecedented challenges. Education officials changed grading policies to give struggling students more leniency, while mental health issues such as depression and anxiety skyrocketed after social isolation. Teachers also encountered many difficulties as they had to adapt to shortened curricula, utilize new instructional methods, and navigate through virtual classes. 

All these challenges combined caused learning loss across all students. The altered grading policy proved to be exceedingly easy, cutting out important topics from curricula and students had the privilege of hiding behind a black square instead of participating in class. Now that schools are completely reopened, both students and teachers feel the long-term ramifications of virtual learning and the learning loss that came with it. 

How the learning loss happened

After COVID-19 first broke out in 2020, MCPS education officials scrambled to provide an alternative to the stress-inducing grading policy. The short-term solution was an optional pass/fail system. To pass, all a student needed to do was turn in a few assignments and attend some of the virtual classes. Not a challenging system to pass by any means. 

But, the fall of 2020 brought a whole new set of rules and policy changes. Students were expected to attend all classes and the pass/fail system was abolished. Limits were placed on how many assignments students could be given and class participation was encouraged. 

However, the staple of virtual learning’s grading policy was the 50% rule. If a student submitted an assignment, they would automatically receive a 50% on it. Although first introduced by MCPS in 2006, this rule was heavily emphasized by teachers during the pandemic, with some even encouraging students to take advantage of it. The emphasis on the rule was meant to benefit students’ mental health while improving their grades and boosting chances of college acceptances. 

Unfortunately, this level of grade inflation decreased motivation in students and set unrealistic expectations for how life after high school would look. Blair Journalism and AP Literature teacher Jeremy Stelzer said the changes to the grading policies have changed the way some students view themselves. “[These policies] have inflated grades to such a degree where you have students thinking that they're ‘A’ students when they're really ‘C’ students,” Stelzner says. The 50% rule contributed heavily to the learning loss and served as cushion for students to fall back on when they slacked off.

During the virtual school year, the county didn’t only revise grading policies —classroom curricula shortened, meaning units deemed as less important were disregarded. Students were simply taught less and from an academic standpoint, are at very different places from students previously. 

Blair Chemistry teacher Deanna Earle explains that some students weren’t taught certain topics which will damage them down the line. “If I was a sixth grader during this gap, I might have missed probability or binomial multiplication and those deficits then build off of each other,” Earle says. The way that the curriculum was handled during the pandemic didn’t adequately prepare students for their next stage —it set them up for failure. 

Blair sophomore Rabira Dosho said that the pandemic created false expectations about how difficult school was supposed to be. “Due to virtual learning, I had the perception that school was supposed to be easy and if I didn't get an A that was abnormal,” Dosho says.

How teachers have adjusted accordingly

Accommodating for this learning loss proves to be no easy feat. Not only were students deprived of a complete education, they also lacked social interaction. Everyone was isolated inside and away from their normal social life, making students much more reluctant to participate in class. Returning to socializing and engaging on a daily basis was difficult for many students, an issue clearly detected by teachers.

Blair English teacher Daniel Cole said he noticed the transition back into the classroom wasn’t easy and getting students to participate was challenging. “It's been tough to get kids to engage in a big working class, moving around the room, and activities such as collaborative assignments,” Cole says. For teachers facing this issue, project-based learning has become their best friend. Incorporating more group work and collaborative assignments promotes participation, forcing students out of their comfort zone, which is where they conveniently sat during the pandemic. 

Reviewing, re-teaching, and familiarizing students with concepts they may or may not have learned has been a recurring theme for teachers since the integration back into the building. Earle notices that due to the learning loss, the curriculum has changed again, this time in a different way. “In terms of changes for the curriculum, pacing has definitely changed. Students need much longer just to process information,” Earle says. 

Blair Weight Training teacher Emmanual Charles detected a similar trend in his classes. “The curriculum format stayed the same, but the way you teach it obviously had to change. You have to move through it slower, a lot slower,” Charles says. 

Many teachers have caught on and deliberately adjusted their curricula, providing students with ample time to revisit and reinforce rudimentary concepts compromised by virtual learning. Tolerance for things such as turning in late work or allowing multiple reassessments has been on the rise for many teachers. 

Stelzner reveals that he has been less harsh than before. “I think since that whole thing started, I've been far more lenient than I was before,”Stelzer says. However, Stelzer also doesn’t believe any learning loss ever occurred in the first place. “I don’t believe in learning loss. I don't think you can lose something you never had. Those students hadn't learned that material yet, so you can't say they lost it and the numbers suggest that we're actually pretty close to where we were before academically -wise,”Stelzner says. Regardless of whether or not students suffered a learning loss, they took a step backwards and forgot how to be good students.

In the face of the learning loss brought about by virtual school, teachers have displayed their capacity to adjust and adapt to meet the diverse needs of their students. They have embraced new strategies and sacrificed their own time to bridge the gaps in knowledge. The encouragement of active participation and a growth mindset has provided students with the means to overcome their challenges and navigate the world as good learners.

Last updated: Sept. 21, 2023, 1:11 p.m.

Tags: virtual learning covid-19 pandemic

Caleb Elazar. Hey I'm Caleb, I'm on writing staff and I like playing soccer, listening to music and spending time with my friends and family. More »

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