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Youth: Tackling Academic Regression during Pandemic

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

By Teresa Goins

Part 2 of a 4 part article on the types of regression that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, child development experts are witnessing in young people. Regression is a child’s retreating or stepping back from a particular aptitude or ability that he or she has mastered in the past. There are three types of regression that are presently more pervasive than usual: Developmental and Behavioral Regression (which was discussed in October’s article), Academic Regression (which is the topic of this article), and Social Skills Regression (which is yet to be discussed in December’s article). In this article, we will review statistics concerning academic regression and receive valuable instruction as to how we can lessen the degree of potential learning loss in our young people. According to Nancy Close, PhD and assistant professor for the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, “The level of stress has gone up to an enormously high level in this pandemic, and many children are struggling.”

Photo by Robo Wunderkind on Unsplash

Academic Regression. According to Megan Kuhfeld, PhD, of the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) in Oregon, the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting “large-scale academic regression.” Kuhfeld, who researches academic growth in students, published a recent study (along with other colleagues from Brown University and the University of Virginia) that projects data on potential learning loss caused by the pandemic, which just a few months ago, “interrupted schooling for 55 million students in the U.S.” Coupled with the current reality of online virtual school (or hybrid school, which incorporates a mixture of both in-person and virtual) – during which our children and teens are unable to get one-on-one attention from their teachers – these statistics are alarming.

Over the summer months (even during a normal school year), many students forget or ‘unlearn’ some of the material they absorbed in the prior school year. Yet, per Kuhfeld’s learning-loss study, it is projected that by the time students returned to school this fall semester, many of them “retained only 63-68 percent of their learning gains in Reading and as little as 37-50 percent of their learning gains in Math …” Kuhfeld attributes this regression to our students’ absence from any substantial schoolwork – they were “not in classrooms” for approximately three months of the nine-month school year. She states, “[They] didn’t get the exposure to academic content they would have gotten.”

An abstract by Harvard University’s Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker suggests that, as of June 21st, “participation in online Math coursework decreased by 93.1 percent,” as compared to participation in January. Additionally, data from McKinsey & Company (worldwide management consulting firm) prove that these gaps in classroom learning could further broaden racial disparities, suggesting that “Black students could fall behind by 10 months and Hispanic students, by 9 months.” During this time, we must focus on ‘catching up’ those students that have fallen behind.

So, what can parents and grandparents do to curb academic regression and help to educate our children during this unusual time? According to the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, we must first assess our students’ knowledge, then (if possible), lengthen their time for learning at home. Let’s use Math as an example. Parents can easily teach Math to young children by integrating it into their everyday family lives, i.e. have children count the birds they see on a walk around the neighborhood, or count the red cars on the way to the grocery. Then again, for the older, more advanced student who is studying Algebra, hiring a tutor might be the best solution. Aside from Math, William Lane, EdD and special education expert in Delaware, says we must “make sure [our children] are reading [or that we] are reading to them.” Lane recommends that we enlist Reading (for the younger child) for a daily minimum of “their age, plus five minutes.” In other words, if your child is ten years old, he should concentrate on reading something at least 15 minutes every day.

These are stressful times, as in many cases, parents are having to work from home, in a virtual capacity, while juggling additional responsibilities as their children’s at-home school teachers. Nonetheless, Lane believes that any at-home instruction, no matter how small, can help in a big way. Our assistance in our students’ academics can help them to better stay on task, make them feel less stressed, and give them a sense of being more prepared. Lane says, “Knowing you are working on something [together] … can make everyone feel better.”

Social Skills Regression will be discussed in next month’s article.


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