Students Struggling to Return to Normalcy
As students return to school for the start of a new academic year, teachers face the challenge of getting them back to grade level after two years of disrupted learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Achievement data has shown how acute the learning loss has been, particularly for low-income students and students of colour whose communities were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Compared to their white and wealthier peers, these groups have rebounded slower.
One approach to academic recovery is acceleration, which involves moving students ahead in their studies to catch up to where they would have been without the pandemic. Another is remediation, which focuses on reviewing and practising material that students have already covered but may not have mastered.
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Acceleration may be more effective in the long run, but it can be daunting for already behind students. Remediation may not close the achievement gap, but it can provide a much-needed sense of support and confidence for struggling students.
Ultimately, the decision of which approach to take will come down to the individual needs of each student. But whichever path is chosen, it’s clear that there is much work to be done to help our students recover from the pandemic and get back on track for success in the future.
Now, schools are ready with hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid to assist recovery. And new research shows that challenging kids with accelerated grade-level work is more effective in catching them up than remedial strategies that focus on skills they should have mastered in previous grades.
But students in the majority Black, Latino and low-income schools are more likely to be remediated, even when they demonstrate the same level of success with grade-level work as students in the majority white and high-income schools.
“It’s a striking finding,” said study author Daphna Bassok, associate professor of education and public policy at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. “There’s a huge difference in how we treat similar students.”
The study, published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, looked at data from more than 3 million students in grades three through eight who were attending public schools in 42 states during the 2014-15 school year.
The researchers found that 30% of students were accelerated while 8% were remediated. But there were significant disparities by race and income: 41% of white students were accelerated, compared to just 25% of Black students and 27% of Latino students. And while 11% of high-income students were remediated, that figure rose to 9% for middle-income students and 14% for low-income students.
“There’s a huge difference in how we treat similar students.”
The findings are concerning because remediation is less effective than acceleration in student outcomes. Studies have shown that students who are held back are more likely to drop out of school and less likely to go to college. They also tend to have lower test scores and grades and higher absenteeism rates.
So why are Black and Latino students and those from low-income backgrounds more likely to be remediated? The answer may partially lie in the fact that these groups are more likely to attend under-resourced schools and lack the support needed for academic success.
“If you don’t have enough resources to support all of the students in your school, then you’re going to have to make choices,” Bassok said. “And unfortunately, we often see that the students who are most in need of resources are the ones who get left behind.”
The good news is that schools can do things to reduce disparities in how they serve their students. For example, they can provide additional resources and supports to schools with high concentrations of Black and Latino students and those from low-income backgrounds. And they can ensure that all teachers receive training on effectively implementing acceleration and remediation strategies.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Bassok said. “But if we’re serious about closing the achievement gap, then we need to be serious about making sure that all students have access to the resources and support they need to succeed.”
What do you think?
Do the findings of this study surprise you? Why or why not? What do you think are some of the reasons why Black and Latino students, as well as those from low-income backgrounds, are more likely to be remediated? What can schools do to reduce disparities in how they serve their students? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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