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Research-Based Recommendations for Overcoming Learning Loss Due to 2020 Learning Disruptions

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February 18th, 2021

Researchers from Illuminate Education compared fall 2020 screening data to results from over one million fall FastBridge screening administrations going back to fall 2016, to reveal substantial math losses and modest reading losses as a result of COVID-19 disruptions. 

Below is an excerpt of the whitepaper with our recommendations for achieving catch-up growth.


Recommendations for Achieving Catch-Up Growth

What can be done to support students and teachers to help make up for COVID-19 learning loss? Student support models such as an MTSS (Brown-Chidsey & Bickford, 2016) are one way that schools can be prepared to address students’ learning needs. However, tiered supports such as supplemental interventions are not likely to be enough to meet the expected, widespread need. For this reason, we recommend schools:

  1. Continue to conduct screening to identify the largest learning gaps and address these through intensified Tier 1 instruction. As noted by Gibbons, Brown, and Niebling (2018), Tier 1 core instruction is the single most effective way to improve all students’ learning outcomes.
  2. Look to norms as the goal for all students to get back to, while understanding that Rate of Improvement (ROI) is the key metric to focus on when conducting progress monitoring this school year, since many students will start the year significantly behind the norm.
  3. Consider spending more time on high-need areas, such as math in K-8 classrooms. The risk of learning loss is greater in these grades and with this subject, so it is even more critical to spend time helping students make up for the lack of math instruction that occurred as a result of COVID-19 school closures.
  4. Lastly, effective remote instruction is possible and teachers will need support to make it happen. Although far more research is needed as to the best online instruction for K-12 students, college-level findings combined with prior research documenting effective instruction in classrooms is available. From that research, we recommend the following best practices for administrators and teachers who will plan and deliver remote instruction.

Tips for Delivering Effective Online Instruction 

  • Designing and developing remote courses has been a new challenge for most K-12 teachers. Extra time is needed to make lessons easy to navigate and engage in a virtual setting.
  • Similar to in-person learning, establish the course expectations with students before the class begins and on a regular basis.
  • Being present and expecting the same mindset from students sounds easy, but it can be challenging after multiple hours of remote instruction. By modeling the behavior you expect and praising students for meeting expectations, teachers demonstrate they are engaged. Following up with phone calls or texts to students who are absent can help break down barriers to participation.
  • Create and use activities that require students to be fully engaged. For example, during synchronous sessions, encourage your students to repeat ideas, answer questions, and practice new skills at least as often as the teacher gives directions.
  • Provide students frequent feedback during every session and with every assignment submitted. This could mean praising students during synchronous sessions and sending written or verbal feedback for asynchronous activities. 
  • Seek out professional learning opportunities to expand your online teaching skills. There are many free events available through professional organizations and content publishers.


Download the full whitepaper here to further explore our findings and recommendations for accelerating learning for all students.



Brown-Chidsey, R., & Bickford, R. (2016). Multi-tiered systems of support. Building academic and behavioral success in schools. Guilford.

Gibbons, K., Brown, S., & Niebling, B. C. (2018). Effective Universal Instruction: An Action-Oriented Approach to Improving Tier 1. The Guilford Practical Intervention in the Schools Series. Guilford Press.



Illuminate Education equips educators to take a data-driven approach to serving the whole child. Our solution combines comprehensive assessment, MTSS management and collaboration, and real-time dashboard tools, and puts them in the hands of educators. As a result, educators can monitor learning and growth, identify academic and social-emotional behavioral needs, and align targeted supports in order to accelerate learning for each student. 

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.


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