top of page
Blog Banner Wide.png

Words Matter

I'm sharing an article submitted to the MASA newsletter by Dr. Kim Gibbons and Dr. Katie Pekel that captured so well the thoughts that have been rolling through my mind on this phrase "learning loss".

"...the language itself situates the last year entirely in a deficit frame, not acknowledging or taking into account the many real skills students and educators have learned that may be leveraged to accelerate instruction..."

What if we simply changed one little word from loss to acceleration? Think of the huge mindset shift this could create?




Title: How to redirect the tempting conversation of ‘learning loss’

Submitted by Kim Gibbons, Ph.D. & Katie Pekel, EdD


We are now one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are all well aware of the challenges this has created for educators, students, and families. Along with significant disruptions to students’ education, other challenges such as food and housing insecurity, childcare, access to technology and the mental well-being of educators, students and families have all been impacted. In the past year, schools have been required to transition between in-person, hybrid, and full distance-learning, many times. Many schools routinely screen students for important milestones in reading, math, and writing and participate in end of year accountability tests (MCAs) to quantify the degree to which schools are providing instruction that is sufficient to help most children attain proficiency. Due to timing of school closures, Spring 2020 data does not exist for the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA), and it is unclear how many districts are collecting screening data during the 2020-21 school year. The absence of data and disruptions to learning have created a “perfect storm” for our schools, and it has been hypothesized that the economic impacts and trauma of recent events will likely exacerbate long-standing opportunity gaps. These hypotheses are now taking root in the form of a multitude of market-based solutions to address, “learning loss.” One principal reported receiving over 30 emails from vendors already. The term “learning loss” is ‘sticky’, meaning it seems to make immediate sense; however, we are growing increasingly concerned with its use. First, the hypothesis of ‘learning loss’ described in the media is not based on actual assessment results (Much more on that below). Second, the language itself situates the last year entirely in a deficit frame, not acknowledging or taking into account the many real skills students and educators have learned that may be leveraged to accelerate instruction, like the use of technology and asynchronous lessons.


Where did this idea of ‘learning loss’ come from?

Research has identified some trends around summer learning loss (Alexander, Entwisle & Olson, 2007; Kuhfeld, 2019). It has been documented that achievement typically slows or declines over the summer months, declines in learning tend to be steeper for math than for reading, and the extent of loss increases in the upper grades. To compensate for the lack of data available during the pandemic, NWEA used research on seasonal learning and summer learning loss to offer insights around the potential impact of learning during the pandemic (Kuhfeld & Tarasawa, 2020). Their Projections from COVID Closures (Spring 2020) estimated that students would return in the Fall 2020 with 70% of the learning gains in reading and less than 50% of learning gains in math relative to a typical school year. In some grades, projections indicate students could be nearly a full year behind of what we would observe in normal conditions.


More than just ‘test’ data

Before panic ensues, it is important to remember that data from the NWEA and other studies are projections and not based on actual data. Data from the 2021 MCA’s and local assessments will either confirm or disconfirm these projections. Given the wide array