Why and How to Prioritize Intervention to Bridge the COVID Learning Gap

It’s been more than a year since schools abruptly shut down nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools struggled to provide the same level of education when students and teachers turned to remote instruction. Families struggled as parents worked from home or lost their jobs and tried to help their children adapt to a type of instruction.

I applaud those families who were able to meet or exceed the expectations of their child’s education during this time. Sadly, this is not the case for millions of American families.

Intervention During COVID: Now What?

As schools have opened (and continue to open) for in-person instruction, it has been—and will continue to be—a challenge for school administrators to implement intervention programs (like this) for students who have fallen behind.

What can be done to help those students who have felt the impacts of unfinished learning? School leaders will have to come to terms with two key facts:

  1. Students have fallen behind; and
  2. There is not a one-size-fits-all intervention for kids.

By admitting these truths, you can take strategic steps to accelerate learning and bring students up to grade level.

Fact #1: Students Have Fallen Behind

Let’s address fact number one: Students have fallen behind. This is particularly true for students with disabilities and from low socio-economic backgrounds.

If possible, have teacher leaders from each grade level meet over the summer to vertically plan and revise their curriculum maps. With millions of Americans getting vaccinated and social distancing measures in place, having this discussion in person would be ideal, though virtually meeting is always an option.

"It has been...a challenge for school administrators to implement intervention programs for students who have fallen behind."

Due to school closures, teachers may have eliminated or altered their teaching of certain skills. By having all grade level team leaders meet, teachers in the proceeding grade levels can learn what their colleagues taught, altered, or eliminated in the previous school year and plan accordingly.

For example, when second- and third-grade teacher leaders meet, the third-grade teacher will be able to gather information regarding what was taught in second grade during the pandemic. This will help in the process of editing curriculum maps. If your state has adopted the Common Core curriculum, research coherence guidelines and priority instructional content beforehand. If your state has not adopted Common Core, viewing your state standards and standardized test blueprints on your state’s education department website is a great place to start.

If possible, your teachers should assess students in spring 2021 using a standards-based measurement. This will allow you to see which students have fallen behind. In addition, teachers will be able to analyze the breakdown of specific standards that have or have not been mastered. If teachers were unable to complete assessments in the spring, they should be completed within the first few weeks of school in the fall.

Fact #2: There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Solution

Spring 2021 benchmark data should be analyzed to determine students’ deficits. Ideally, this data should be grouped by skill or standard. You will be able to see prominent gaps in learning. If you are looking at running a summer school intervention program, use the analysis of this data to decide how many teachers you will need, what skills you’ll focus on, and the length of the intervention program.

Remember that at this stage of the pandemic, teachers are tapped out. This past year has taken a toll on them. They may not jump at the opportunity to teach a summer intervention program, and that’s okay! As administrators, we may have to get in the trenches and teach. Alternatively, consider leveraging community stakeholders, recent college graduates, and teacher candidates from local colleges and universities for such programs.

For schools that aren’t planning on implementing a summer intervention program, collecting and analyzing spring 2021 data is still a must-do. From there, you and your teacher leaders need to decide what group or groups of students will be targeted for intervention, what resources will be used, the length of these programs, and the delivery of instruction. With the extension of research on COVID-19, the emergence of vaccinations, and a steadily decreasing number of cases, instruction in the fall will most likely be in person, with few exceptions.

As a school or in specific grades, you may find your building in need of a Response-to-Intervention (RTI) block in your master schedule. RTI is nothing new. According to the RTI Action Network:

The RTI process begins with high-quality instruction and universal screening of all children in the general education classroom. Struggling learners are provided with interventions at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate their rate of learning...Progress is closely monitored to assess both the learning rate and level of performance of individual students.

RTI is a three-tier approach, as you can see below. Tier 1 is high-quality classroom instruction, screening, and group interventions. Tier 2 contains targeted interventions. Tier 3 is the most intensive intervention level and contains a comprehensive evaluation. At all levels of RTI, there should be high-quality, scientifically based classroom instruction, ongoing student assessment, and parent involvement.

Moving Forward

No matter what route you take in implementing interventions, student and staff physical, mental, and emotional well-being should be at the forefront. Although we are on the downswing of the COVID-19 pandemic, the past year in the U.S. has been uncanny.

During the upcoming 2021–2022 school year, we have to create the “new normal” in our buildings while not leaving behind underperforming students. We need to prioritize research evidence-based intervention strategies.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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