May 21


How to Address Learning Gaps Resulting From COVID

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

May 21, 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped virtually every aspect of our lives, with education experiencing noticeable disruption. As schools transitioned to remote or hybrid learning models, students faced challenges in adapting to these new ways of working. Now, as the world resumes life as it was before the pandemic, many children are facing this struggle once again. 

Children are grappling with learning gaps because of interrupted schooling, remote learning challenges, and the absence of traditional classroom instruction. For parents, witnessing their children struggle academically due to COVID-19 learning gaps can be concerning and frustrating, and you may wonder how to address learning gaps in the first place. In this comprehensive guide, our team at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights, Illinois, explores the strategies and techniques that parents can implement to help their children overcome COVID-19 learning gaps and thrive academically.

What Exactly Is a Learning Gap?

Girl in black long sleeve shirt reading a book

A learning gap is a disparity or deficiency in a child’s knowledge, skills, or academic performance compared with the expected standards or benchmarks for the grade. These gaps can arise due to interrupted schooling, inconsistent access to quality education, individual learning difficulties, or limited resources. 

The COVID-19 pandemic was a trigger for these learning gaps because of disruptions in traditional classroom instruction and the move to a virtual or at-home environment. The Nation’s Report Card NAEP results from October 2022 showed a steady decline in reading and mathematics in 2022 compared to the 2019 assessment year. As a parent, identifying and addressing learning gaps promptly can equip your child with the tools or support they need to succeed.

What Caused the Learning Gaps During COVID?

The pandemic contributed to a noticeable loss of learning, particularly for students who were already struggling in schooling due to inequality, poverty, structural racism, language or learning differences. A 2021 study by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights showed how COVID-19 worsened pre-existing inequalities regarding access to education. 

Students of color in public schools who were already struggling with access and opportunity fell further behind during and after the pandemic. Further research by McKinsey & Company revealed that 40% of black and 30% of Hispanic students didn’t receive any online instruction when schools shut down during the pandemic. This is a huge disparity when compared with 10% of white students. For many low-income families, the health and financial well-being of the family was a higher priority than education.

Focus on One-On-One High-Impact Tutoring

Tutoring may be one of the most effective ways to help bridge the COVID-19 learning gap. Many children have forgotten the key building blocks they need to understand certain tasks in the classroom. Some students will need personalized one-on-one support and tutoring sessions to counteract their decline in academic performance. High-quality and intensive tutoring and one-on-one instruction can help children improve academically. 

As many lower-income families may not have access to private tutoring, schools need to step in and offer tutoring during the school day. This should focus primarily on mathematics and literacy. Many districts are already using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding for this. Parents can advocate for smaller class sizes so teachers can provide as much time and attention as possible. You can also do your part by involving your child in summer learning programs or encouraging them to join study groups to help them work on the skills they need for the new school year.

Adaptive Curriculum Changes

Besides tutoring, it’s important to focus on improving the curriculum to suit children with learning gaps. The Understanding America Study (UAS) Education Project aims to reveal the true impact of COVID-19 on American families. It shows that high-quality curriculum materials are key to addressing learning gaps. 

It’s important to ensure your child receives an appropriate curriculum tailored to their learning environment. For example, the curriculum should adapt depending on whether your child is learning online or at school. If you’re home-schooling your child, this is just as important. The curriculum should match the abilities and interests of each student and include appropriate enrichment activities.

Focus on the “Whole Child” 

The pandemic highlights the importance of focusing on the emotional well-being of children rather than simply academically. More precisely, it’s important to address the social and emotional learning of each child as this will in turn help build their academic skills. The New York Times published a report in April 2022 that surveyed the mental health of students during the pandemic according to school counselors. Children who were struggling at home or worried about health, finances, or access to food couldn’t focus fully on schooling. 

The counselors reported students were struggling to find motivation at school. This revealed how emotional health is essential for learning. Schools around the country are spending a portion of their COVID relief funds to hire more counselors to address mental health after the pandemic. As a parent, you can encourage your child to seek emotional support to help address these concerns. 

My Child Is Two Years Behind in School, What Do I Do?

If your child is falling behind in school, this may indicate a potential learning disability or developmental delay. These could include conditions like dyslexia, ADHD, or autism spectrum disorders. An unstable home life, lack of access to resources, or inadequate support systems can also play a role. Medical interventions can be significant in helping children catch up. For example, testing, diagnosing, and treating underlying learning disabilities can give you and your child appropriate support for these specific challenges. 

Behavioral therapies, medication management, or specialized educational programs can also be a part of the solution. Psychological support can help your child cope with any emotional distress from academic struggles and help build resilience and confidence. Practical tools, such as tutoring, after-school programs, or educational technology can provide supplemental support for helping your child catch up. Individualized education plans (IEPs) can outline specific goals and accommodations tailored to your child’s needs.  

Seek Professional Support

As a parent, you play a key role in helping your child navigate the challenges of returning to in-person learning and addressing COVID-19 learning gaps. By identifying areas of struggle, creating a structured learning environment, providing emotional support, and setting realistic goals, you can help them overcome learning gaps and thrive academically. Need more help? Contact NeuroHealth Arlington Heights, Illinois. We can work together with you, your child, and your child’s school to identify any potential struggles and bridge the COVID-19 learning gaps to help your child reach their full potential. 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.