Back to school 2020 is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. As teachers, students, and parents come to terms with our “new normal,” questions remain over what is best for kids. Are children falling behind? Are remote programs rigorous enough? Will our children suffer long-term consequences from this unprecedented disruption to their education?

Learning losses due to COVID-19

One of the most troubling byproducts of the pandemic is what has become known as the “COVID slide,” a learning loss phenomenon which could have consequences that will last for years for the 55 million children who experienced a disruption in their education this past spring.

Learning loss refers to “any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or to reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuities in a student’s education.” Prior to COVID-19, the most common extended disruption in instruction occurred as a result of summer break, when the learning loss for students was estimated to range from two weeks to two months of academic growth. 

Each year, students experience some impact on education because of the “summer slump.” Educators expect it. They understand it. And they prepare for it. But while they have a good handle on this annual occurrence, it in no way prepared them for the unprecedented learning losses which may have resulted this year as a result of COVID-19.

Parents concerned about COVID slide

poll conducted by Global Strategy Group for The Education Trust-West found that almost nine out of ten parents (89%) in California are concerned about their children falling behind academically due to COVID-related school closures, and eight out of ten (80%) reported a higher than usual level of stress due to closures.

Unfortunately, parent concerns about COVID-19’s impact on education seem to be well-founded. Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) took historical data collected to understand the typical summer slump and extrapolated it to project the extent of the learning loss which might be realized in the wake of COVID-19. According to NWEA, “Preliminary COVID slide estimates suggest students returned in fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50% of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.”

Looked at in terms of learning loss, this means that retention of reading and math may have eroded since schools were closed by 30% and more than 50%, respectively.

McKinsey and Company estimates that, in the event in-person instruction doesn’t resume until the beginning of 2021, students stand to lose anywhere from three to 11 months of learning, depending upon “the quality of remote instruction, home support, and degree of engagement.”  It is widely believed that the slide will be greatest for children of socioeconomically disadvantaged families.

Not all schools experienced the COVID slide

When school resumed this fall, Fairmont Schools in Anaheim, CA, like most other schools across the country, opened with 100% remote instruction. Fairmont followed its longstanding practice of conducting formative assessments to kick off the year to assist in making informed decisions about how to make sure they would meet the needs of their students.

According to Kelly Robinette, Director of Data and Accountability at Fairmont, 88% of their students scored in the proficient range for both reading and math in those formative assessments. Additionally, 75% scored at the high proficiency level in math, and 62% did the same for reading. This did NOT align with the dire results predicted by NWEA.

Ways to reverse COVID-19 learning loss

While it will take nothing less than a Herculean effort, researchers and educators say there are things we can do to help regain some of the learning losses students have already experienced and minimize COVID-19’s impact on education as we move forward during the pandemic.

Here are some of the things which need to be in place in order to accomplish this:

  • Conduct Meaningful Assessments … and Do It Early – One of the consequences of last spring’s school shutdowns was that standardized testing, which normally occurs during that time of year, was effectively cancelled. So we will never be able to compare where students left off right before COVID-19 to where they are today (which would have provided a clear read on learning loss). Fortunately, educators have another type of test in their tool belt — formative assessments — which collect “detailed information that can be used to improve instruction and student learning while it’s happening.” Armed with this information, teachers can make more informed instructional decisions and resource allocations as they try to regain ground and stave off future learning losses.
  • Invest in Teachers, Curriculum, and IT – “Teachers are working so hard to make sure that content they are providing to their students is engaging, thoughtful, and purposeful,” said Joanna Yujuico, Curriculum and Instruction Specialist at Fairmont Schools. “We need to invest heavily in their professional development and make sure they have all of the resources they need to be successful, including excellent curriculum, technology, and training. This is a tall order because COVID-19 has heavily affected many school budgets. But it is a necessary priority if we are going to continue our successful program and support our students now and in the future.” According to a recently-published article in Education Week, “Interventions and services aimed at restoring lost learning are most likely to succeed when schools are layering them on top of a solid academic foundation.”
  • Elevate the Level of Remote Learning Programs – No one knows how long it will be before all students will be physically back in the classroom, but it’s safe to assume that remote learning will be around for the foreseeable future. Again citing McKinsey and Company, the more effective the remote program, the less likely a student is to continue down the COVID slide. (Learn more about “How to Do Remote Right.”) We need to grow in our effectiveness of delivering instruction from a distance — not only to help bridge the gap for students who will be learning from home for the duration of the pandemic, but also to ensure we are prepared the next time we experience a significant disruption in education.
  • Be Prepared for Students to Return to the Classroom – School administrators should have comprehensive plans already in place so students will receive the best experience possible when they return to in-person, on-campus learning. Research has demonstrated that students learn best in a traditional classroom setting, a finding with which the American Academy of Pediatrics concurs. Schools should be ready to go “in-person” just as soon as they are given the green light! The pivot to remote learning last spring was chaotic; students and parents deserve to have a smooth transition when we return to the classroom.
  • Address Social Emotional Learning (SEL) – Another consequence of the pandemic — the diminished social and emotional wellbeing of our children — also needs to be addressed. Not only is this critical for healing the “whole child,” it is an important component for facilitating learning recovery and mitigating future COVID-related learning losses. Regardless of whether students are learning at home or in a classroom, they need to feel safe, valued, and empowered. By employing proven SEL methods to build self-worth, community and engagement, educators will be embedding curative and preventative measures into their students’ learning retention.
  • Maximize Teaching Time – As teachers scrambled to launch remote learning last spring, educational minutes (actual teaching time) were compromised. Experts believe that teachers need to literally “make up for lost time.” The good news is that educators are a creative bunch, so they will find innovative ways to do this without compromising core instruction. Some researchers suggest that students will be well served if the 2020-21 school year is extended or if quality summer school programs are made available on a gratis basis.


Fairmont is the oldest and largest secular, co-educational preschool – 12th grade private school in Orange County, California. Voted Best Private School in the county for seven consecutive years, Fairmont is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and Cognia, and is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools.

With five campuses serving preschool through high school students, parents can rely on a continuous education where students explore the full range of their potential as scholarsathletesartists, and leaders. Students can expect to be challenged, inspired, and supported by teachers and peers. Parents can count on educators and administrators who will partner with them in their child’s educational journey.

If you are looking for a school which can help your child thrive in the age of COVID-19, it’s not too late to enroll for the 2021-2022 school year. Contact admissions to schedule your tour today.


To learn more about Fairmont, please fill out our inquiry form.