The COVID Learning Loss and Catching Up

COVID has disrupted just about everything, including education. The pandemic’s effects on our system have been real — no question. It is natural to want to find a way back — to perhaps accelerate learning to overcome some of the negativity of the pandemic.

But, before we determine that we need to reconstruct what education looks like, it’s important to take a moment to review where we’ve been and where we are now …

On March 17, 2020 there was an announcement from the provincial government — schools were closing and remote learning was to begin in 2 weeks. We had 2 weeks.

Admittedly Some Students Did Struggle During the Pandemic

But, we did it.

Some great work has been done over these past 2 1/2 years to maintain educational continuity and student engagement, but without a doubt it has been a challenge. We changed how we taught students several times because of the health restrictions in place. Some students did not adjust well and likely did not achieve to their expected levels while others seemed to do just fine. These disruptions to the learning patterns will likely be talked about, analyzed and debated for years.

So, if that’s where we were and where we are now … what about those thoughts of trying to catch up?

When one talks about the need to somehow ‘catch up’ or ‘prioritize learning’, I would politely disagree. We have always prioritized learning. I would argue that we need to look at the learning situation from a different perspective. The concern over a potential learning lag is genuine, but the proposed solution is misguided. The underlying and unspoken assumption of ‘speeding up learning’ is that we need to implement some special program or teaching strategy — something to push up learning acquisition.

The FIX IT Pill Does Not Exist

Let’s think about that for a moment — If we need to accelerate learning to have students ‘catch up’, why wouldn’t we have been using this wonderful knowledge of increasing student achievement already? Why would we be holding this amazing ‘super power’ in reserve? We wouldn’t of course. Every year we work to improve learning for our students. We look at where they are, what gaps they have, and how we can leverage that knowledge to provide access to learning for everyone.

We don’t have a ‘pill’ that suddenly makes learning speed up. There is no magic elixir, potion or paradigm that we can deploy that we’ve been secretly storing until a pandemic.

But, perhaps I’ve misread the sentiment being expressed.

Perhaps the expressed concern isn’t really about going faster, but is instead about fixing students who are somehow broken. Well, I don’t share that sentiment either. Our goal isn’t to fix students — they aren’t broken. They are where they are and it is our goal to identify that place where they currently exist. Students aren’t broken. Teaching isn’t broken. Students are where they are — pandemic or no pandemic.

As we enter this new school year, our energies will be put into ensuring we IDENTIFY the learning gaps for students– as we would be doing anyways — not focusing on accelerating or fixing a broken student or system.

And most importantly, we will be celebrating our students learning over the past 3 years, not condemning it as deficient or inadequate. Our students have traversed an incredibly uncertain time and come out the other side. They should be congratulated for their success, applauded for their fortitude and reminded about how strong they have been during this difficult time. Encouragement, celebration and recognition of the mountain they have climbed will do more for their future achievement than communicating that they are broken or behind in their learning.

Celebrating our Students Will Help Them Grow

You get more distance in student achievement by acknowledging, praising and celebrating than you ever do with criticism or pointing out deficiencies.

By celebrating student success, rewarding their efforts and analyzing where we need to go on their learning journey, we embrace our students in ways that acknowledge and motivate them. They remain engaged, excited about their learning, and proud of who they are and what they’ve achieved.

This is how we move forward.

And after all … acknowledging and celebrating children every day is what we do as educators.

Photo by Alexander Grey on

4 thoughts on “The COVID Learning Loss and Catching Up

  1. Thanks, Dave for sharing. I agree with this and would add or emphasize that in some sense our focus should be on educators. The kids as you have suggested are alright. Alright in the sense that they aren’t broken. But I worry educators are broken and their continued brokenness may negatively impact children. Obviously, this is not about blame but continuing to acknowledge the varying degrees of readiness and well-being that our educators are at. My wonderings lie in how we can continue to support and celebrate educators and ensure that their well-being will positively impact themselves, each other and kids.


    • HI Dean. You are right. The stress and strain on our educators has been enormous during this time of ever-changing expectations. We have made mental-health awareness a critical part of our support strategies in our district, but there is always more we can do. Our educators are the life-blood of our system, and we need to do what we can to support them. Thank you for your BANG-ON comments.


      • I think some parent angst revolves around a fear of standardized and Provincial testing. The question they may be
        meaning to ask is about whether that testing is going to include areas that our children might not have learned or achieved to the extent expected pre-Covid. If parents can be assured that any Provincial testing is not going to adversely affect their children’s progress through the system, especially in high school, there wouldn’t be such angst?


      • Hi Sheila, great question! Provincial assessments such as the FSA, numeracy and literacy assessments are less focused on content, and more around skill level. They allow us to determine where students may be having some difficulties at any one particular point in time. They are not used to indicate final student achievement, but more around their growth over time. We will continue to use them as a tool in our tool chest of instruments to determine how we can best support all students.


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