There’s no doubt that student learning has suffered over the past two years. As we look forward to a new academic year, the question is, what can edtech companies do to help educators accelerate learning for their students?
Rather than offering students remediation, we need to accelerate learning, which is really the opposite of remediation.
When a student is behind, our typical approach to address it has been to meet them where they are and work with them to progress from there. That’s remediation. It’s fine for helping students make progress, but new research suggests it’s less helpful in trying to bring them back up to current grade-level work. The reason is somewhat obvious: If we spend two months intervening with a student in this way—two months focusing on material from a previous grade—they are going to be two months further behind this year’s material at the end of that period and you’re looking at two more months of remediation.
That doesn’t help students catch up so much as it just kicks the problem ever further down the road.
With accelerated learning, on the other hand, if we have that same student who is two months behind, we begin by thinking about what their current grade-level expectations are. If that student is studying geometry in grade 7, as their teacher I will not just go review all the math concepts covered in grade 6. It doesn’t even mean that I will review all the grade 6 math skills this particular student has not mastered. It means that I will review the grade 6 math skills that this student hasn’t mastered and that are also relevant to the geometry unit we are currently studying or about to begin on.
We call those skills that are the most powerful prerequisites to future learning “Focus Skills,” and at Renaissance we’ve created a collection of resources to help teachers identify Focus Skills for their grade and state and put them to the most effective use as they try to support their students in completing grade-level work.
Standards tend to include several skills within them that students must master in order to master the standards, but teachers really work at the level of skills, rather than standards, so standards typically need a bit of unpacking. That’s why we’ve created each Focus Skill to be centered around a discrete, teachable skill.
We hope that other vendors will, like we have, focus on offering tools to deliver a just-in-time review that is relevant to what students are about to learn and not just any random topic they may have missed out on in previous years.
Focus Skills are those from previous years that are absolutely critical for success when students encounter this year’s grade-level skills, and “Trip Steps” are the Focus Skills that are disproportionately difficult for students to master.
If we think of the progression of skills a student follows as a staircase with evenly placed steps, each getting just a bit harder than the last, Trip Steps are single stairs that are much higher than those around them. They are the skills that stand out in each grade as the most challenging, relative to the other skills a student will learn in a given year. We’ve launched resources for Trip Steps as well, for both math and reading recovery.
These are incredibly helpful when it comes to prioritization because they can focus our search for resources on the skills the most students are most likely to struggle with, rather than skills the majority of students tend to learn easily.
Had we thought to consider them two years ago, Trip Steps could have provided a very accurate prediction of where students would be struggling when we returned to in-person schooling because they mapped so well to the grade levels that have experienced the most significant changes in performance in our How Kids Are Performing analyses. We believe that vendors who focus on offering instructional support for Trip Steps will be more successful in helping students to master their current-grade skills.
Though there is still a lot of work ahead for those of us in the education industry, there is some good news. Student growth is beginning to recover, even if student performance is not. It’s not ideal, certainly, but as long as students are growing, they are progressing toward the goals we have for them and will reach them if we keep plugging away.
As providers of an open ecosystem who are committed to student growth, we love partnerships with other EdTech providers. We believe that education is better for everyone when companies work together, and I would encourage any company out there who is interested in what we are doing to please get in touch with us. We would love to align your content to our system and operationalize it to accelerate learning for students.
And, most of all, I want to congratulate the teachers. We had not one but two variants this year and we've still managed legitimate growth. Our work now turns to accelerating things so that performance will begin to recover. Let's all work together, let's share the resources, and let's focus our attention so that we can begin the journey of recovery of performance as well.
Dr. Gene Kerns (@genekerns) is the Chief Academic Officer at Renaissance. He is a third-generation educator and has served as a public-school teacher, adjunct faculty member, professional development trainer, district supervisor of academic services, and academic advisor at one of the nation’s top edtech companies. He has trained and consulted internationally and is the co-author of three books. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org