Addressing the COVID Slide

Mar 4, 2021

It’s hard to believe that we have 64 Math Might shows released and almost another 48 that are almost done being written, edited, produced, and soon to be sent off! For the month of March, we’re going to take a break from Math Might Teacher’s Guides as we prepare for the  Stay tuned for more fun with the Math Mights as we start a new challenge: Mystery Math Mistake! Students will have to play detective and figure out where we made the error in our math!

 In the mean time, be sure to check out your grade level to see which of the 16 shows and extension activities you could use in your classroom next week!

In the Trenches

Although we’ve done a lot of remote training during COVID, as we complete more Math Mights shows, I’m starting to work with schools in-person a little bit more! I absolutely love being back in classrooms, but one of the biggest things we’re seeing in schools now are the ramifications of the COVID slide (read more about the COVID slide in this article from NWEA). Reading and math are subjects that build on themselves, and when we have large gaps of skills in students, we have to fill in those holes.

At SIS4Teachers, pre-COVID, we regularly worked with at-risk students, students that might need a little bit more think time or maybe haven’t covered a standard as fast as another student. Through systematic instruction and lots of dedication, we had schools that had made incredible catch-up growth with their at-risk kids, and now, looking at the effects of COVID on education, it feels a little like somebody plowed over all that hard work.

The Effects of Gaps in Learning

m3In one particular school district that I work with, we started our M³: Molding Math Mindsets training and coaching series with a group of Kindergarteners several years ago. They started with our numeracy foundation training, went through the foundations of number sense, doing visual models, being able to do number talks, and last year, those Kindergarteners were in fourth grade. They scored higher than the national average on our test that shows growth, the NWEA, and they were an amazing example of the success that can happen as we work to build a solid foundation of math skills.

Now, imagine those 4th grade kids who were completely on top of it lose a large chunk of their fourth grade instruction at the end of the year due to COVID. They missed the fraction instruction, the higher level of multiplication and division, they lost out on some of the area, perimeter, and volume things they were supposed to learn. Then, we start their 5th grade school year, a little bumpy, a little bit of hybrid instruction, taking a break in November and December, back in a hybrid situation, just doing our best to get kids in school every day, all day. Let’s just be honest, there are gaps.

It’s not anybody’s fault. There’s nothing we can do about it. But the switch to virtual learning, coupled with the lack of consistency in learning models that has been necessary over the past year, has damaged everything we’ve worked towards in education. And I’m sure the school districts I’m working with aren’t the only ones experiencing these struggles.

So, now what?

Well, first we have to figure out where we are. What amount of instruction was missed? What was gained? What concepts were learned well enough so that students can apply that knowledge to something new? How can we analyze what students should have learned to see where they are now?

Then we have to decide what to do. Do we continue to plow through our material, even if we know the success rate of students is not where we want it to be? Do we continue to give chapter tests or unit summative tests as we have in the past?

The answers to these questions depend on your school’s situation. I can’t believe all the combinations of classroom activities I’ve seen in the schools I’ve visited. We have one school that goes in-person every day, and has for most of COVID. We have other schools that are hybrid, where they’re teaching their class in-person, but have a group of kids entirely online in a Google Classroom. These teachers have to sit at their table, working under a document camera or at a smartboard so students at home can see the instruction. Can you imagine trying to manage math instruction when you can’t walk around to look at your other students??

We have schools where students check in live every day, attendance is taken, and they have class on Zoom or Google Meet. At least, in that situation, you know instruction is happening and you might have a little better idea of where kids are because you can see them every day.

We also have school districts that are so rural that their internet isn’t strong enough for live teaching. Instead, teachers have to record all their instruction and upload it, hoping that kids are able to access the content in their homes, and never knowing if they actually understand the material.

Teachers around the world are in the trenches, experiencing the effects of COVID and the pandemic on their instruction, and many are left wondering where their kids actually are in their understanding.

Gathering Data

I think it’s really important to take a step back for a second. Before we can decide what to do, we have to get an accurate picture of where we are. Over half of our year is completed. In fact, we don’t have much school left; we’re already in March! We have a lot of schools, in January, that collect data on students about the standards that they should have learned from the beginning of school this year until where they are today. With some of our schools, we sifted through the curriculum and did some careful planning on what standards we hoped that students would have learned by the end of January, and created interim assessments so we could see exactly where the students were.

These interim assessments were based on standards and DOK, or depth of knowledge. Some of the questions were DOK 1, which is simply asking for the information, but we wanted to look at DOK 2 and 3 as well, asking if a child could actually apply that information. I want you to picture an assessment that has four corners on it, and each square in that assessment is going to address a standard to see where a kid is. It might not go into the depth of asking them all the application things, but do they know how to take a fraction and add it to another fraction with an uncommon denominator? And, can they apply that in a scenario in a story problem?

Teachers do all kinds of informal assessments in the classroom, but this assessment was a little bit different.The goal of these assessments was not to give it, find out that a lot of my results were red, so I’ll go back, reteach tomorrow, and give the test again. We wanted to collect data to see what has been lost in the storm, in the COVID slide.

What does the Data Say?

The best part of the whole process was being able to have data review meetings with each teacher. The data is all color-coded to show how well students are doing based on grade level expectation – green is good, yellow, orange, and then red, which means really far below grade level. We wanted to help teachers understand exactly where they were in this situation with their students, and make a decision based on the data in their classroom to either continue to plow through material with kids that are failing, but have a Congratulations! letter for finishing the material, or do something different.

If we see that 20 out of 28 students are failing a particular standard, we might initiate a “clean up on aisle five.”

The results of the assessment were very interesting. As you look at the younger grades – Kindergarten, first grade, and even second grade – the data that we collected wasn’t as strongly red as it was as we started to get into older grades. This is because a lot of kids can have what’s called “catch-up growth” in their K-2 years because their brain is actually able to learn more than a year’s worth of content in a year’s worth of time.

For a lot of these younger kids, we were able to say, Hey, we’re really on track with these kids!  We got this going! But, kids are still struggling with writing numbers, and with the idea of starting at 45 and counting on, so I’m going to make sure I’m working on that. Also, I noticed that their conservation to 10 is not quite where I want it to be, so we’ll keep working on that too.

But as we looked into third grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade, where you talk about concepts that needed to be built on the foundation of what students learned the year before, we saw 88% of the kids falling in the red, which is our “far below basic” category, 8% of the kids were “below basic,” 4% were “at basic” and zero of 26 kids were proficient or advanced. This was a running theme with classes we studied, and these were the kids that had the data to show that they were really excelling in fourth grade. As a teacher who worked so hard over an extended period of time, this data is so disheartening.

This is the reality of where our kids are based on the aftermath of the storm. Now, we have a decision to make: Am I going to now just keep going, even if kids don’t have the foundation? Or am I going to revamp the way I lay out my curriculum for the rest of the year? 

Peeling Back the Layers

I think you could pick either option, and I’m not sure that anyone really understands which one is better. I can tell you that, once we create holes in learning with math, those holes continue to get bigger. Think about the layers of an onion. If you have a layer that’s rotting, you might not know because there are other layers over it. We’re going to see this group of kids impacted by COVID continue to go up with holes missing in their instruction.

In our districts, based on our data, we decided not to just keep going. We decided to pause delivery of new content for two weeks, maybe three weeks, and at the most, four weeks so we could go back and attack some of these areas where kids are completely falling apart.

So, with a fifth grade group having 88% of their kids in the red on the standards that were taught from September to January, we decided to take this month of March, and really go back and pick out the pieces and the core concepts that we want kids to master. We’ll revamp our year where we can look at a deep dive into fractions, and then look at different ways that we can implement some of these other standards.

Now, not every classroom in your school district might have 88% of the kids as “far below basic,” but you can certainly see, when you go through your data, that it’s the opposite of what we usually look for. Usually, if I see that about 80% of my kids are getting a concept, I move forward with instruction. But now, I only see that about 20% of the kids are getting it, so I need to work to improve proficiency.

To be quite honest, some of the data that we collect is skewed, especially with virtual learners and well-meaning parents. As we were analyzing the data, we saw a few students in the green. I wondered if those students were virtual learners, and the teachers confirmed that. They said they knew for a fact that the student was not at that level. So, some of those students that we thought were green, really might be more of an orange or even a yellow.

I think one of the hardest parts for schools experiencing the COVID slide is we are still having to give state testing which causes a great deal of anxiety for teachers because in many schools it is part of their evaluation. I suppose there are two different ways you could think about 1) it is very expensive and is only going to give us data on students we already know aren’t up to standard. Or 2.), we can look at it as a way to take a collective, national look at the damage COVID has done to educational performance. No one should be suprised by that the data but it might be a hard reality of how we are going to rebound from the aftermath,  

Closing the Gaps

So let’s give ourselves a chance. Let’s give ourselves a gift, as teachers, to look and see where the gaps are with our students. Let’s do a “clean up on aisle five” after this COVID storm, and see if we can effectively get kids to master these standards.

They’re not going to be where they’re supposed to be. Each educational situation across the United States and different countries is very unique. But you and I both know that math builds on itself. So I think we have to look at this realistically and objectively. We’ve seen data in younger grade levels that support the idea that students can catch up. With that in mind, we can pause new learning, be intentional about our efforts and set forth on the other tasks, and we just might be able to bridge some of these gaps in our students’ learning so they can continue to move forward.

I would love to hear what you’re doing in your school district. How is your district responding to the “cleanup on aisle five” after the COVID storm? Of course, the storm isn’t completely over, but with the vaccine and all the things we have going, we’re hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction to have some normalcy back. I would love to chat with you, and have conversations about how you’re going about this!


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