The Covid Learning Gaps Our Tutors See Daily

Students across the country are taking tests this fall and winter to help determine the extent of learning gaps caused by Covid. Early indications show many students are making some strides to catch up after spending so much time away from the classroom. Others are falling further behind.

It’s a trend our tutors here at Educational Connections are witnessing, and working through, every day. In this blog, read what four of our tutors have to say about Covid learning gaps.

National report finds Covid is having a ‘significant impact’ on student achievement for the 2021-2022 school year

A report released this month by McKinsey & Company found the impact caused by the prolonged period of virtual classes for K-12 students is significant.

“Our sample of the Curriculum Associates i-Ready assessment data, which covers nearly three million [K-8] students across 50 states, suggests students are four months behind in mathematics and three months behind in reading compared with students in matched schools in previous years,” the report states.

The researchers found similar learning gaps for high school students. They used data from state assessments taken in the Spring of 2021.

“For the 13 states with participation rates higher than 90%, the proportion of students meeting proficiency standards dropped by an average of five percentage points in math and three percentage points in English language arts,” the report said.

How can students catch up?

problems solved

The US government has pledged hundreds of billions of dollars in Covid relief funding to help bridge the learning gaps and address the social-emotional needs of students. Some states have launched supplemental learning programs, including after-school study groups, tutoring sessions, and plans for summer learning camps.

Many educators say the relief isn’t coming fast enough and many students continue to fall further behind. Based on what our tutors are seeing with our students this year, it’s clear that one-to-one attention is more important now than ever.

“I’ve had several students say they felt like they just reviewed the previous year and didn’t learn anything new,” explained Educational Connections Tutor Jan Rowe.

“This year they feel like the teachers are going too fast, maybe to catch up, and they are not mastering the skills.”

Jan Rowe, Educational Connections Tutor

Handwriting, grammar, and writing skills are suffering

messy handwriting and covid learning gaps

Rowe is noticing that many of the elementary and middle school students she tutors are having trouble writing and their handwriting isn’t as neat as it was before the pandemic.

“The students did not have to write out answers so the handwriting skills really suffered, especially for lower elementary,” explained Rowe. “They were able to type their answers so they were not aware of their own mistakes. Or they quickly changed it per the computer so they didn’t learn from their mistakes.”

Andy King, an Educational Connections Tutor who works mostly with middle school and high school students, is noticing a lot of issues with poor grammar. He’s also seeing a lack of basic language arts skills, like the eight parts of speech.

“They have trouble identifying the subjects of sentences, which is important in discerning subject/verb or subject/pronoun agreements. Logical organization of a paragraph or essay is frequently an issue. What I often hear from them on answer choices is some version of ‘…it just sounds right.’”

Andy King, Educational Connections Tutor

Many students are lacking level-appropriate math skills

King says the impacts of prolonged virtual classes are most obvious, for him, when it comes to math.

“I’ve had Pre-Calc students struggling with advanced concepts they would normally have covered in Algebra II, and I’ve had 8th graders struggling a bit with some 7th-grade math topics.  My impression is that they have had some exposure, but that the exposure wasn’t sufficiently intense or lasting as it might have been if taught in person,” he explained.

And for high schoolers, King says his sessions regularly now include refreshers, and sometimes even entire lessons, on skills students previously learned in a virtual classroom.

“In some cases, I’ve seen students who missed completely out on a major topic that should have been covered. For instance, the unit circle in Algebra II and I’ve had to teach it to them for the first time.”

The discrepancies don’t stop for students who have already graduated. College freshmen, who spent their last few years of high school on the computer, are also having a tough time keeping up, according to Educational Connections Tutor Susan Poppiti. She tutors kids in math and also teaches math at a university.

“I’ve noticed gaps in fundamental Algebra skills, such as factoring and solving quadratic equations, that are critical for success in higher-level math courses. Algebra skills require practice and repetition, along with meaningful feedback, to achieve mastery. It appears that the lack of continuity in some educational settings has disturbed this progression.”

Susan Poppiti, Educational Connections Tutor

Learning gaps are evident while prepping for college entrance exams

geometry blank paper

Many students who are taking the SAT/ACT this school year took their Algebra II and Geometry classes virtually.

Payton Bock, a Test Prep Tutor at Educational Connections, says she can tell that many students didn’t use physical resources, like cut-outs and equipment, to help visualize important math concepts like they would have if they were learning in an actual classroom.

“I had a student recently tell me that they remember watching their teacher draw out different things on Zoom, but never actually drew anything themselves,” Bock explained.

Students got so used to doing their homework online and submitting their work online that Bock is noticing many are now struggling with what she calls “the pencil and paper aspect of standardized tests.”

“I have a lot of students who try to complete complicated math work in their heads instead of writing out all the steps and gaining the advantages of visualizing their work or who will read through a reading comprehension passage without highlighting, underlining, or taking notes on important parts.”

Payton Bock, Educational Connections Tutor

Bock says this becomes a recurring problem as students prep for an exam, including the SAT or ACT, but don’t have any materials or notes to rely on.

Learning gaps evident while prepping for SAT and ACT

“Many students weren’t held accountable for taking good notes during their virtual classes, were distracted by their environment, or had to complete solo work without the collaboration and support of their peers. Now, they don’t have any materials to review when topics come up again during test prep, they missed out on certain foundational lessons, and they aren’t as comfortable letting teachers or coaches know when they’re not comprehending what we’re working on,” she explained.

King says while learning gaps seem individualized in specific areas for specific students, he is noticing an overall pattern in the students he is working with for test prep.

“In general, there seems to be less academic preparation for the current crop of 11th graders vs. earlier classes. I think working closely with teachers to cover weak or missed areas might be helpful, but parent involvement in academic work is probably essential,” King said.

What can parents do to help close the Covid learning gaps?

Encourage your child to advocate for themselves and let you or their teacher know when they’re struggling.

Poppiti says one of the best things you can do for your child is to be as active as possible in their education.

“This includes discussing what their children are learning, helping with homework when possible, and encouraging their children to seek assistance from teachers, learning centers, and tutors,” explained Poppiti.

If your child is struggling, our team of subject experts, test prep tutors, and executive function coaches are here to help to help. And if you’re unsure if your child is experiencing any Covid-related learning gaps, we’d be happy to discuss your child’s current learning situation.