Learning loss is not just a catchphrase, it has become a central part of federal policy. The $ 1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Biden on March 11 requires states to spend at least 5% (or roughly $ 6.5 billion) to tackle learning loss. Public school districts must set aside 20% of their funding to address this. In addition, the bill allocates $ 100 million to the Institute of Educational Sciences, the non-partisan statistics-gathering arm of the US Department of Education, to study learning loss. The bill includes additional allowances for summer school, after-school and other additional programs that could be part of “remedying learning loss” or helping students to learn. “Catching up with their schooling”.
The investment in education made by the Biden administration is significant and necessary, but the use of these funds deserves to be watched lest we see a repeat of a disturbing historical pattern. Allocating money to tackle learning loss is fraught with pitfalls as the term itself is controversial at best and misleading at worst.
Learning loss has become more of a marketing slogan than a term that captures what students have faced over the past year. The learning loss marketing, however, has been effective enough in getting allotted money that will almost certainly end up benefiting the industry that coined the term. Apparently, learning loss is a term that emerged from educational research that identified and quantified an effect of pandemic-related disruption on schools and learning. In reality, this is the result of campaigns by test editors and Wall Street consultants.
A month after the start of the pandemic, NWEA, one of the largest publishers of state tests, predicted that a huge ‘Covid-19 slide’ was going to happen and that the outcome would be terrible. Early attempts to qualify the concept as a Covid-19 slide were not successful, but led to the introduction of the term ‘learning loss’, which gained ground.
Introducing these terms out of the context of the research that created them leads to a misinterpretation of their true meaning. Learning loss, for example, has been digested and filtered through common knowledge to take on at least three meanings: evaporation of previously acquired knowledge, expected loss of career opportunities, and performance losses from standardized tests. planned or measured.
Just eight months later, the NWEA reversed its predictions of sadness and unhappiness, telling the public that it had adjusted its expectations for the loss of reading and math learning among students in grades 3 through 8th grade.
This model of introducing vague terminology and hyperbolic test-based conclusions is a proven strategy for the test publishing industry. In the 1970s, the decline in the average SAT score, attributed by the College Board and education experts to public school chess, undermined the generally positive public view of American schools.
The growing lack of trust in schools was cemented in public opinion in 1983 by the narrative and apocalyptic language and predictions of “failed schools”. A nation in peril report (which was largely based on test results) of the National Commission on Educational Excellence established by the federal government.
Drops in SAT scores and terrible ratings A nation in peril were subsequently found to be inaccurate and more reflective of political agendas than the true state of America’s public education system. A blue panel commissioned by the College Board in 1977 found that two-thirds to three-quarters of the drop in score was in fact due to a change in the demographics of applicants, not a decline in the quality of education.
Second Federal Government Analysis of Standardized Test Results Just Seven Years Later A nation in peril, found that instead of declining, student achievement actually increased slightly. In addition, two of the members later admitted that the Commission started out with the belief that schools were failing and went to great lengths to prove it rather than conduct an objective study.
In addition to shaping policy, education reports often introduce easy catchphrases (eg, achievement gap, college and career, etc.) that frame public perception and cause families to quit public schools “en failure”. Once these negative narratives reach the public arena, they influence politics and perception for years. A nation in peril, in particular, influenced educational policy from No Child Left Behind to At the Top to the Every Child Succeeds Act, three federal statutes that promoted accountability and test-based incentives for school districts.
Capitalizing on concerns about online learning, John Bielinksi, senior director of research and development at test publisher Illuminate, said: “We are seeing a pervasive, negative and universal impact on student learning in due to the disruptions of Covid-19, especially in math and reading. “McKinsey, a consultancy not known for its equity promotion or education activities, released a report, based on the data from Curriculum Associates, a test and curriculum publisher, warning of “widening racial disparities in learning.”
Curriculum Associates released its own report which identified some exemplary schools “serving low-income students of color who have been successful in minimizing learning loss.” The report went on to highlight the key factors that mitigate learning loss saying, “These schools have closed the digital divide; contacted each family; doubled on teaching, learning and assessment feedback loops; and held everyone accountable while celebrating the successes. It’s no surprise that a test publisher concluded that the solutions to the learning loss could be found in the tools the company had to sell.
As policymakers and the public strive to understand the impact of the pandemic on their children, their schools and their future, test publishers and tutoring companies strive to ensure that part of this conversation is the continued use of their core products: standardized tests and the materials designed to support them.
It will be crucial to ensure recovery from the pandemic that policymakers avoid the debacle of NCLB tutoring mandates that have led to a boon to tutoring companies and little benefit to students. the A nation in peril The report led to 50 years of test-driven accountability and spending reforms with virtually no tangible benefits to show. No Child Left Behind has funded thousands of hours of tutoring and test preparation initiatives that have done little to enrich tutors and test preparation companies.
As more teachers give up terms like learning loss, test publishers will adapt. Recently, Curriculum Associates has shifted its marketing from lost learning to equally confusing “unfinished learning”. Learning loss, unfinished learning, summer slide, covid slide, cha-cha slide, whatever it is called this week, it’s largely just a test editor trying to show or, worse yet , to predict that declining reading and math scores during the pandemic is a reason to invest in more testing or test preparation.
But the way A nation in peril ignored the changing demographics of applicants in order to create the narrative that suits the authors, any report that does not fully take into account differences in digital access, different levels of covid deaths in the community, different participation rates, etc., should be taken with a strong dose of skepticism. Now is not the time to allow the financial and marketing incentives of the testing industry to cause the past 50 years of ineffective policies and spending to repeat.
Perhaps the solution to educational problems created by socio-economic conditions does not pay more money to test publishers to quantify and slander students who suffer from these same conditions.