Core Concepts: Learning Acceleration

Help students overcome unfinished learning to get back to grade level.

Topics: Social Emotional Learning, Pandemic Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, Health and Wellness

With the COVID-19 pandemic entering an uncertain new phase, school systems are shifting their focus from surviving the crisis to helping students cope with the social, emotional, and academic toll of the most significant disruption to K–12 education in history. That process will take years, but the choices system leaders make now for the 2021–2022 school year will be crucial.

Research suggests that more students have accumulated more unfinished learning over the last year than ever before,” say Jamila Newman, a TNTP partner, and Bailey Cato Czupryk, vice president of TNTP, who co-wrote “Getting Up to Speed.” How should schools help them get back to grade level—and back on track to pursue their goals beyond high school?

Their article focuses on three core concepts:

  1. Acceleration differs from remediation by emphasizing appropriate grade-level content with the option of applying “just-in-time” concepts from prior years to help struggling students catch up.
  2. Students—especially students of color and from low-income families—learn more and struggle less with grade-level material under accelerated learning strategies, suggesting acceleration might help address longstanding academic inequities.
  3. Planning a strategy for learning acceleration requires quality instructional materials and curricular resources. Leaders must assess what’s in place to determine whether or not it meets grade-level standards and fill any gaps rather than relying on their teachers.

Read the full Principal magazine article.

From the Field

In addition to the tips that Newman and Cato Czupryk offer in their article, NAESP members also offered their tips to help students overcome unfinished learning. Three trends emerged.

Personalized Learning

“Personalized learning will be our top strategy for unfinished learning,” said Stacey Green, a pre-K-7 principal in Kansas. “Personalized learning encompasses the whole child: social, emotional, physical, and academic. The strategy is supported in our students’ homes and through civic engagement.”

“Individualization in teaching for all students,” said Hilda de Leon, an assistant principal in North Carolina. “Knowing their learning loss and how to enrich, recycle, and reinforce.”

Social-Emotional Learning

“Our school is developing a social-emotional learning vision team to drive improvement efforts related to staff and student mental health,” said Mandy Ellis, a principal in Illinois. “This will be our priority for the school year.”

“It will be super important to find out what motivates and drives our learners,” said Amie McCaw, a principal in Michigan. “Some students have not had to be in a class all day so we will need to get really good at finding our students’ WHY.”

Small Group Instruction

“We will be focusing on small group reading/math strategies, integrating science and social studies to ensure that all areas are addressed,” said Stephanie Morrow, a principal in Georgia.

“Small groups and a hard look at instructional programming and practices,” said Kim Sampietro, a principal in Maine.