Learning gaps have widened due to pandemic-era school closures.
The ongoing challenges around remote and hybrid learning have led to widening learning gaps, with Black and Hispanic students experiencing the most impact. According to a 2021 McKinsey analysis, students ended the 2020-21 school year five months behind in math and four months behind in reading. Historically disadvantaged students were most impacted, widening pre-existing disparities, with students in majority Black schools six months behind, and students in low-income schools seven months behind.
Given widening gaps in academic performance, it is harder than ever for teachers to reach and serve all their students.
Pre-pandemic, a classroom likely contained students who achieved at seven different grade levels; post-pandemic, the range was predicted to span up to nine grade levels. In a June 2020 survey conducted by YouthTruth, teachers in schools with at least 75 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch were most likely to say their students work on different content at different paces and need additional support.
The learning environment plays a crucial role in student success.
Learning is most effective when content is meaningful and relevant, when adults build caring relationships with their students, and when students are in classrooms that foster a sense of belonging and a growth mindset (Duke et al., 2017; Dweck, 2006; The Science of Learning; Quay, 2017). Overdeck-supported studies by researchers in the Mindset Scholars Network showed that 9th grade students with stronger reports of growth mindset earned higher core course GPAs than students reporting a more fixed mindset. A second study found that math teacher messaging that supported growth mindset, belonging, purpose, and affirmation explained roughly 29 percent of the variance in student test score growth, exceeding the predictive power of established classroom practice inventories.
Acknowledging student variability can accelerate academic mastery.
Unlike the traditional classroom model, which is often a teacher lecturing at the front of a classroom, a student-centered learning model shifts the focus onto students and how to best meet their needs through coaching, small group facilitation, and the use of educational technology. Studies show students attending student-centered learning environments outperform their peers, especially for Black, Latino, low-income students, and English language learners, as evidenced by high school graduation rates, student achievement, and college persistence data. Saga Education, an Overdeck Family Foundation grantee providing small group math tutoring, was able to help students gain an average of one to two and a half extra years of learning a year—and lead to higher grades across subjects. Tech-enabled curricula grantees such as ST Math and Zearn show promise in helping students get back on track with their math skills.
A proliferation of edtech tools and a fragmented K-9 market makes it difficult for schools to know which solutions would work best for them.
There are over 8,600 ed-tech tools available for schools to purchase, but little evidence to help them decide which purchase is best. The lack of information has resulted in an estimated 65 percent of unused ed-tech licenses, causing students to miss out on the opportunity for a technology-enhanced learning experience. The $190 billion infusion of federal funds to schools, and $5 billion in private investment to ed-tech products (more than double the 2020 levels), means the supply of ed-tech products will only increase, making it even more challenging to sort through the market to find the best products. This increases the risk that ineffective ed-tech is purchased and implemented, continuing to increase gaps in student learning versus closing them.
Scale Personalized Interventions
Develop and scale technology-enabled interventions, including tutoring and curricula (both core and supplemental), that accelerate students’ mastery of math and literacy knowledge, as well as foundational socio-emotional skills.
Increase Active Learning Experiences
Invest in developing tech-enabled active learning experiences that enhance student engagement, and allow students to apply their learning to improve mastery of academic and socio-emotional outcomes.
Improve Evidence-Based Decision Making
Increase evidence-based decision making in edtech purchasing and innovation through ongoing validation, field building, and knowledge generation.
What combination of tech-enabled tools across math and literacy are most commonly being used or implemented together? Is there a combination that is yielding greater outcomes for students?
How effective is virtual tutoring on student outcomes? Can we identify the components that improve cost-effectiveness, yet preserve quality and impact for students?
What are some of the innovative technologies, tools, and practices that support students in developing greater agency in their learning?
What information do district and state decision makers need when purchasing edtech and curriculum, and what drives them to adopt certain tools?