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COVID-19 Resources | Leadership Best Practices | School Leadership During a Pandemic

The COVID Slump

July 21st, 2020

How can school leaders help facilitate a seamless transition back to learning this fall while making up for lost time?

Studies show that over the summer months, when children are not in school, “those from under-resourced communities tend to lose roughly 30 percent of the gains they made in math during the school year and roughly 20 percent of the gains in reading.”1 This loss of learning has become known as the summer slide or summer slump.

Now, students have been separated physically from their schools for as many as five or six months. Many school leaders may question, if students experience learning loss over two months, what does this look like over six months? What follows are things to consider while planning for the upcoming school year.

The Challenge of Student Engagement

According to a study conducted by EdWeek Research Center, 76 percent of teachers reported that student engagement in learning declined either a little or a lot between May 20 and May 28, 2020.2 In particular, high school teachers were more likely than their elementary or middle school counterparts to identify waning engagement. This data comes as no surprise considering that by mid-May, students learning from home since mid-March were likely realizing that they would not be returning to the classroom and may have put schoolwork on the back burner. Studies such as the one conducted by EdWeek have parents and educators concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a kind of academic erosion from which it will be challenging to re-engage students in the fall. Data from EdWeek reveals that students in underrepresented communities are even more likely to have suffered academically in the Spring of 2020. Such students were less likely to have frequent teacher communication and to receive new classroom material. If the 2020 school year did not produce the kind of academic advancement expected of an entire school year, where does that leave students developmentally, socially, emotionally, and academically at the start of the fall term?

The Need for Curriculum Review

Many district leaders fear that COVID-19 and the inability to structure distance learning consistently could have created an educational disparity that will pose challenges for faculty expected to pick up where students should have left off academically at the end of the prior school year. District leaders should prepare faculty for the likely possibility that they will need to spend additional time at the start of the school year, providing reinforcement instruction on topics that teachers would have typically covered the year prior. As a result, available timing to adequately cover the new school year’s lessons may need to be condensed. Teachers will need to be flexible in adjusting curriculum to bring students up to speed, without overwhelming those who typically need additional support in learning complex topics.

Prepare for Continuity of Learning Policies

Some health researchers and scientists predict that the U.S. could see a spike in COVID-19 cases next fall or winter when temperatures drop, and the population becomes more susceptible to airborne illnesses.3 If such an increase occurs, your faculty, staff, and students might be at risk of contagion, which could result in a disruption of learning. To ensure continuity of curriculum and educational advancement, put a plan in place now to accommodate disruptions due to illness. Such strategies might include:

  • Selecting and training faculty on e-learning tools should schools need to migrate classes to a virtual model.
  • Requiring faculty to prepare at-home lessons in advance.
  • Researching the technology needed to record video lessons with teachers that students can watch at home before completing assignments, mirroring a flipped classroom model if necessary as an interim substitution to in-person instruction.
  • Holding dialog with faculty to understand where they struggled to keep in touch with students and parents during the 2019-2020 school year while students were learning from home and helping to overcome such barriers in the future if necessary.

Facilitate Additional Support Services for Students in Need

Many parents and students eagerly jumped into remote learning requirements, embracing at-home assignments, and maintaining a structured curriculum. As a result, these students completed self-paced learning, turned in work on time, and are confidently poised to advance to the next academic level. Many other students, however, even within the same school, for a variety of reasons, were not able to keep up. Teachers can likely help identify students that may be behind their classmates. They may be the students who failed to turn in assignments on time, did not take advantage of teachers’ office hours, or whose parents did not frequently engage in dialogue with teachers.

Collaborate with faculty and staff to find ways to identify students who will need acute assistance learning previous years’ vital curriculum to ensure they can keep pace with their peers. Potential solutions to supporting students in need of additional support may include:

  • Checking in with families prior to the start of the year and asking parents or guardians their thoughts and ensuring that they have the resources for their children to be successful.
  • Connecting students with community tutors.
  • Additional weekend or evening review sessions.
  • Before or after school study halls for homework support.
  • Providing online lectures of the previous years’ curriculum to help students get caught up.

Focus on Academic and Emotional Development

Provide training for faculty and staff on identifying students who are struggling not just with the COVID-19 slump, but more severely with their reintroduction to the world outside their home. Students who have been confined to their homes since the spring may be suffering from a variety of social, emotional, and physical issues. While Americans were encouraged to stay home and stay safe during the pandemic, for too many young people, the home is not a safe space. Without regular access to trusted teachers who can identify signs of abuse, some students may return to school unable to focus on their academic progress due to having experienced higher rates of emotional or physical abuse during the pandemic’s stay-at-home mandate.4 Help faculty and staff identify students who may be suffering from more than academic disengagement and follow through with routine district protocol for finding support and professional intervention services for at-risk students.


While technology exists to conduct education virtually, young people are missing the experience of the in-person classroom. Traditional education models teach young people interpersonal and social skills, provide mentorship opportunities, fuel creativity, and focus instruction, not to mention gives working parents a chance to balance their family and professional responsibilities. After six months or so away from the classroom, students will face challenges readjusting and recommitting to the expectations of in-person academia. School district leaders are positioned to—while acknowledging the challenges of the 2019-2020 school year—enable students to recover lost time and re-engage in the classroom with the support of their dedicated teachers.

1. Golinkoff, R., Hadani, H., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2020, April 30). Avoiding the COVID-19 slump: Making up for lost school time. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from

2. Bushweller, K., & Yettick Kurtz, H. (2020, June 08). Most Educators Want Schools to Stay Closed to Slow Spread of COVID-19. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from

3. Grey, H. (2020, May 20). What a COVID-19 Wave in the Fall Could Look Like. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from

4. Abramson, A. (2020, April 8). How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from

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