[Educator Insights] 534 Educators Share Their Outlook on Unfinished Learning
[Educator Insights] 534 Educators Share Their Outlook on Unfinished Learning
According to the 2022 scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card, released in October by the U.S. Department of Education, a majority of states saw scores decline for 4th and 8th graders in mathematics and reading between 2019 and 2022. While achievement gaps have always existed, many are attributing this drop in scores as a direct result of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the last few years, school and district leaders have made it a priority to address issues exposed by the pandemic and help students catch up on unfinished learning to minimize the widening of the achievement gap. But how do educators feel about addressing student performance?
We wanted to see exactly what teachers had to say about addressing unfinished learning with students and how administrators and school leaders can better support them, so we turned to our blog to gather feedback.
These are the results of an anonymous survey from September 12, 2022, to October 20, 2022, on our blog, where we asked our educator readers to share their feedback. Our goal for this blog post is to see exactly what teachers have to say about the obstacles they face addressing unfinished learning, the kinds of additional supports or resources they believe would help them address unfinished learning with students, and their overall outlook on if they believe they will be successful helping students close learning gaps this school year.
534 educators anonymously shared their thoughts with us with three main questions:
1. What is your biggest challenge when it comes to helping students catch up on unfinished learning/learning gaps? [multiple-choice question]
2. What tools, resources, or supports do you think would best help educators address student learning gaps in your school or district? [multiple-choice question]
3. What is your outlook on helping students catch up on unfinished learning this academic year? [multiple-choice question]
Additionally, participants were also asked a few demographic questions—such as job title, years of teaching experience, and the grade levels they interact with—to provide more insight into the respondents.
Let’s look at what the educators who responded had to say, along with some key takeaways.
Note: The majority of respondents who selected "other" for their job title typically identified themselves as a school support role, such as a school counselor, librarian, academic coach, etc.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to helping your students catch up on unfinished learning? [multiple-choice question]
Educators were given 10 options for answer choices and asked to select their single top choice, but they were able to select anywhere from 1 to 10 answers. Of the 534 educators who participated, respondents selected an average of 2 answers, yielding a total of 1,071 responses. Let’s break down a few of these responses:
Keeping students engaged and motivated
Keeping students engaged and motivated is always a top concern for educators, and it’s no secret why. When students are actively engaged and motivated, they not only take more control of their learning, but also are more likely to succeed. However, it’s also well-known that even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, student engagement has been slipping. According to an October 2021 report from EdWeek Research Center, many teachers are concerned with student motivation and morale declining as a result of the pandemic.
There are numerous possible explanations for students disconnecting or disengaging in the classroom, both related to school and not. Still, there are multiple ways that educators can help students feel focused and involved in their classrooms to propel learning, motivation, and academic achievement. Building strong student relationships, helping students build their confidence and self-esteem in class, increasing student agency, and cultivating a growth-mindset within the learning environment are just a few ways to begin driving engagement.
Differentiating instruction based on student needs
The second biggest challenge indicated by educators who responded to our survey was differentiating instruction based on student needs. Again, this is by no means a new challenge to any educator, but it is certainly one that has demanded more attention in recent years. Disruptions to learning resulting from various factors of the COVID-19 pandemic have exposed the need for a personalized approach to learning as students return to class with differing skill levels.
This is understandably a tough nut to crack in the classroom. Taking a differentiated approach to instruction recognizes that a variety of tactics must be utilized in order to reach every student, which takes careful planning, time, patience, and a good bit of trial and error. Stepping away from a one-size-fits-all approach in the classroom can be a little nerve-wracking, and finding the right balance takes work, but differentiated learning can be approached, starting with a few simple steps.
What tools, resources, or supports do you think would best help educators address student learning gaps in your school or district? [multiple-choice question]
Educators were given 11 options for answer choices and were asked to select their top three choices, but they were able to select anywhere from 1 to 11 answers. Of the 534 educators who participated, respondents selected an average of 2.4 answers, yielding a total of 1285 responses. Let’s break down a few of these responses:
Smaller class sizes
The top choice was smaller class sizes by educators who answered our survey, and it’s no surprise why. Large class sizes are often seen as a major barrier to effective personalized instruction; after all, instructors simply don’t have the time or ability to be everywhere at once in their classrooms. A smaller class size makes significant one-on-one time between instructors and their students feasible. Instructors will be more able to get to know their students, understand their knowledge gaps and learning styles, and build relationships that motivate learning.
Teacher shortages have made smaller class sizes more difficult to accommodate, as there simply are not always enough educators available in a school or district. This is one of many reasons that teacher retention and administrator support are so critical.
Ways to address social-emotional learning needs
Social-emotional learning (SEL) is not a new concept by any means. But in recent years, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more schools and districts are recognizing the importance of addressing the needs of the whole learner to achieve better student outcomes.
When educators are equipped to address the needs of the whole learner and when they are given opportunities to learn about and strengthen SEL professional skills and their own social-emotional competence, amazing things can happen. According to the National Association of Elementary School Principals, teachers who learn and assimilate social-emotional competencies are more likely to stay in the classroom longer and less likely to suffer from burnout. Teachers who feel supported and capable of supporting their students can build stronger relationships, and in schools where teachers and students can build strong relationships, students thrive.
Additional support staff (paraprofessionals, aides, etc.) and additional staff (teachers)
Educator and school staffing shortages are yet another issue that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have undoubtedly increased in the last few years. Increasing teacher retention, recruiting educators, and decreasing educator burnout are all top priorities for school leaders.
School staff and teacher shortages stem from a number of reasons, but there are concrete steps that administrators can take to help manage immediate staffing issues and build for the future. The more action school leaders can take to increase retention, fight burnout, and recruit new educators and support staff, the more likely they are to build and retain a strong school community.
Online learning programs
There is no replacement for an educator in the classroom, and there never will be. Only an educator is capable of delivering the connection, support, and passion that are all critical ingredients not only to the learning process but also to the development of the whole learner. But technology and teaching can work hand in hand to achieve better student outcomes.
With the right online learning programs, teachers can save time, track student process, identify and target learning gaps, support the diverse needs of learners, and so much more. Check out our blog post A Buyer’s Guide to EdTech for resources designed to help make finding the right solution for your school a snap.
What is your outlook on helping students catch up on unfinished learning this academic year? [multiple-choice question]
Educators were given eight options for answer choices and asked to select only the one answer that they most identified with.
The graph above represents the distribution of answers across the 534 respondents as a whole. The majority of responses indicate that educators are optimistic that some or most of their students will catch up on unfinished learning this academic year. But educators can’t do it alone. Administrators must continue to support educators, students, and the entire school community as best they can. High-impact tutoring programs, acceleration and intervention programs, and an increased focus on teaching the whole learner are just a few of the strategies schools and districts have put stock into to address unfinished learning.
Here are some additional resources geared toward helping schools address some of the factors highlighted by educators who completed our survey.
Additional resources to support closing learning gaps:
Recruiting and retaining quality educators are critical to driving student success. This toolkit offers both practical help in addressing educator shortages and some useful strategies for holding on to your teachers.
The need to power student learning forward, both toward grade-level proficiency and in individual growth areas, remains a top priority in current education. Following the unanticipated shutdown of many schools in 2020, conversations about unfinished learning made headlines, while pressures remained regarding helping students meet rigorous grade-level standards. This balancing act can be difficult. So, with a limited amount of time and resources, we explore the best ways to approach this challenge.
Interruptions in learning due to school shutdowns or shifting learning models have been common, and we’ve seen state education agencies calling for strategic plans to ensure that any gaps in learning that accrued are understood. As a result, the increased use of benchmark assessments by schools is taking hold to help shape instructional planning. Consider the value that a well-executed benchmark strategy can bring (especially this coming school year) and the reasons benchmarks are important for the classroom.
Interested in learning more about how you can close learning gaps and accelerate achievement for all students in your school or district? Check out Edmentum's suite of K–12, evidence-based assessments and digital curriculum, and see why 8,000 U.S. school districts proudly partner with us.