Back
The District

Recovering COVID-19 learning losses starts with scaling differentiation

The Newsela Team
Aug 26, 2020

As projections of learning losses and the “COVID slide” dominate education headlines, schools are slowly gaining a clearer picture of the achievement gaps teachers will see this fall. The average classroom likely already included students at learning levels above or below their grade, but recent research shows this gap will widen dramatically—with lower-achieving students falling furthest behind. 

So how can schools effectively stall the slide and get all students back on track? As a classroom strategy that’s been embraced by teachers for years, Differentiated Instruction will be more important than ever this fall—and schools should be thinking about ways to scale and support it with the right materials and technology. Below, we explore why differentiation is key to addressing inequity, recovering learning losses, and creating the conditions for every student to succeed.

Learning losses haven’t been equal

The more we learn about the impact of COVID-19 on learning this year, the clearer it is that learning losses are steep—and they aren’t affecting all students equally. Research done by NWEA, Brown University, and the University of Virginia projected that when students return to their studies this fall, they’ll have made approximately 63-68% of the learning gains students typically would in reading, and as low as 37% of typical gains in math. A NWEA white paper provided the additional context that while students from affluent communities are more likely to have the resources and learning supports to “weather this storm more easily,” students from underserved communities are at greater risk of falling behind. 

In the face of this disparity, differentiated instruction (including strategies like teaching content at multiple reading levels and using customizable instructions and prompts) is essential to promote equity and help all students gain back losses in reading and math. And educators know this: a recent survey done by the EdTech Evidence Exchange and University of Virginia found that 82% of teachers and administrators say they will need to differentiate instruction more—or significantly more—this fall than in a typical school year.

Flexibility and waivers are not guaranteed

Another reason differentiation is critical going into this school year? Federal requirements for school accountability aren’t likely to be lifted. A piece published in Education Week this month explains that while the U.S. Secretary of Education granted waivers to schools this spring to cancel exams and carry over previous accountability data, that type of flexibility is unlikely to be extended into the fall. 

With the Department of Education communicating that expectations are high—and with teachers facing a wide span of different student abilities after a turbulent spring—the need for materials that support differentiated instruction is paramount. It’s also important that at every level, these materials are standards-aligned, helping teachers remedy learning losses and prepare students for required performance assessments.

Beyond COVID-19: Differentiating at scale

While the need is urgent this year, scaling differentiation efforts—and investing in materials and technology that can help—will lead to important benefits down the road as well. In addition to helping teachers meet students where they are and recovering learning losses, scaling differentiation also opens the door to increased flexibility and supporting different types of learning. 

A recent brief published in Education Dive reported that remote learning has in fact benefitted some students, removing distractions and allowing them to work on projects at their own pace. Some educators are now considering how differentiated instruction could help support different learning styles going forward, making room for students who flourish when given more freedom through project-based learning.

Effective differentiation can take many forms, from providing engaging content at a range of reading levels to empowering teachers to customize annotations, prompts, and assignments to support the learning styles of individual students. And as a tried-and-true approach with support from teachers around the country, scaling differentiation presents an opportunity to help all students—especially those with fewer resources and less support from their communities—gain back the learning they may have lost this spring.

The Latest from @Newsela

The right content resource keeps learning going, even through times of disruption. See how schools and teachers nationwide are using Newsela for the 2020-2021 school year. https://t.co/pFYUlO4b4o https://t.co/VSukeGa663
November 24, 2020, 3:04 PM
It is hard to imagine a more challenging year, but that doesn’t mean good things haven’t happened, too. We put together a list of our favorite things from 2020. From panda birthday cakes to llamas in tuxedos, there are fun moments to be thankful for. https://t.co/JtwGfug0fy https://t.co/Xzl9r8gsoq
November 24, 2020, 12:04 AM
Love hearing about students wanting to learn more after reading a Newsela article! 💙 https://t.co/7zDf4w9yvs
November 23, 2020, 7:33 PM
Odds are you’ll be using butter during your Thanksgiving meal, so why not make it yourself? With simple supplies and a bit of arm strength, you can use science to make homemade butter! https://t.co/B10uQt6ydx https://t.co/SN04LEsZqS
November 23, 2020, 6:12 PM
Make Social Emotional Learning a part of your distance learning classroom. The articles in this Text Set come from Newsela’s SEL Elementary School Collection and cover topics relevant to language arts 👉 https://t.co/055i7dGjwS
November 23, 2020, 4:36 PM
A safe Thanksgiving during a pandemic is possible, but health professionals know their advice is as tough to swallow as dry turkey. Make the most of your turkey dinner by following these tips from health experts: https://t.co/ZMYHSLcxgg https://t.co/MMQv0V7q4o
November 23, 2020, 2:18 PM
Kamala Harris, a Democrat, made history as America's first woman to be elected vice president. However, Republican women have their own successes in the election of 2020. A record number of them are heading to Congress, with more races still to be called: https://t.co/RyVX9HWeZX https://t.co/QjykHpKTLL
November 23, 2020, 1:19 AM
Shoutout to Mr. Macha's English class! 👏 A great project to keep students engaged in a relevant way. https://t.co/jhraxT7pxv
November 22, 2020, 9:01 PM
With high school around the corner, middle schools make math, science and English a priority — but what about learning to manage stress? Or developing healthy habits and friendships? Make them a priority with Newsela's SEL collection for Middle School: https://t.co/PHe94GZorZ https://t.co/nhw3bU6tTC
November 22, 2020, 4:31 PM
With Thanksgiving right coming up, lots of people will be thinking about turkey: Where to buy one, how to prepare the bird and how many leftovers there will be for sandwiches the week after. But how much do you really know about turkeys? Let's find out: https://t.co/JAJVKqItbl https://t.co/2KSNhsA2Zi
November 22, 2020, 1:31 PM
How and why did the foods served at Thanksgiving dinner come to be so fixed? Many falsely assume that most of the same meats and vegetables were eaten by the Pilgrims during the first Thanksgiving, but let's explore the true origin: https://t.co/KWZ4sNj3vh https://t.co/zIJfxJVWEc
November 22, 2020, 12:27 AM
This past week is the second week in a row that a major drugmaker has issued data indicating its new vaccine could be successful at fighting COVID-19. Preliminary results indicate that the vaccine by Moderna is nearly 95% effective in preventing sickness: https://t.co/FYQk4sfvbo https://t.co/KKMIeB2o1h
November 21, 2020, 9:05 PM
On November 7, former Vice President Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States. Use this collection to educate students about his inspiring journey to the oval office and controversial transition ahead: https://t.co/E3tI8wPIxz https://t.co/kFvbFk4X4n
November 21, 2020, 6:06 PM
Weave SEL into your lessons with content selected for elementary, middle, and high school learners. Take a closer look at the Newsela Social-Emotional Learning Collection: https://t.co/pOK7cSxH3z https://t.co/8Oq9RPlgoG
November 21, 2020, 4:34 PM
In search of creative new ideas and resources for your teaching? 💡 Explore the Newsela Educator Center for videos, lessons, and ready-to-go assignments for leveling up your classroom 👉 https://t.co/XkF9zQwAIz https://t.co/Oq3Jvi2P3M
November 21, 2020, 3:02 PM

The best lessons start with the best content.

Ready to bring great instructional content to your students?

Contact Sales