The Myth of Learning Loss

Crystal Ball

Virginia is planning to spend more than $400 million dollars in the next couple of years on “high-intensity tutoring” for students in K12.

The allocations to local districts is, of course, all about fixing “learning loss” from the pandemic.

Except there’s no such thing.

The “loss” being addressed is, of course, all about standardized testing.

Specifically, the governor and lots of state and school administrators are concerned that the scores 5th graders recorded on the SOLs1 in 2023 were below those of a completely different group of kids who were in the 5th grade in the spring of 2019.

It’s all about data, not learning.

Which is not to say both groups of students, and all the others, don’t still need help coping with the effects of the chaos that is still rippling through schools and communities. But setting them up with special sessions to drill on the very narrow range of skills represented in those tests is not the best use of that money.

Instead schools and districts should be investing large amounts into counseling and mental health services. Something that we talked a lot about during the pandemic but which seems to have been largely forgotten in the rush to return to “normal” schooling post crisis.

The state could also do much to help those students still to come by taking a small part of that $400 million and totally revamping the school curriculum behind the SOLs. Far too much of what those “standards” say kids should learn – and be tested on – during their time in K12 is antiquated at best and useless at worst.

And, on a side note, I find not a little irony in the fact that many of the tutoring programs being proposed by districts, and which will be paid for with state money, are entirely online.

This from a governor and other politicians who screamed at the top of their lungs (and social media accounts) about how online schooling during the pandemic was a disaster.

It would be nice, somewhere along the line, if all these “education experts” would understand that learning is not about a test score. Learning is a personal process that happens best in the interaction (usually but not necessarily live) between students and caring teachers.

Those relationships, formed in a supportive classroom, were the primary loss that came out of pandemic schooling and the best we can do now is work to rebuild and restore them.

The photo shows a visitor to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History looking into a crystal ball. Not sure if she saw the future on her side of the sphere.

1. SOL = Standards of Learning, Virginia’s unfortunately named testing system.

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