A COVID-recovery requires a multi-year strategy

by Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan, Executive Director, Reading Partners

The road to recovery to address COVID-19 learning loss will be a long one, which is why Reading Partners signed onto the Strongest Year Yet coalition. While there are many ideas on what schooling should look like to address this need, we believe that high-dosage tutoring—individualized or small group learning—is key to a successful recovery plan. 

Many proposed recovery plans are set for a one-year timeline. Still, the reality is that a multi-year approach needs to be taken to address the lost instructional time students have endured during COVID-19, especially for those who were already the furthest behind. For the first year back to in-person schooling, we anticipate educators, students, and families will just be focused on adjusting to the new normal in school. The second-year back is where we will truly see where students are in their learning journeys. Then in years three and beyond is where differentiated learning and progress will show up. This is not to say that we shouldn’t act with urgency, but that we need to have a strategic plan that sets us up for both the near-term and the long-term. 

To truly put students back on track, recovery strategies need to plan for a five-year effort along with multi-year, flexible funding plans, community and school buy-in, and a commitment to differentiated instruction tailored to individual student needs, especially for students furthest behind. More than ever, students are at varying places in their learning. We need supercharged differentiation, where educators can identify and provide targeted supports for students at different academic levels. But differentiated instruction cannot fall on classroom teachers alone. We need to elevate the programs that already do this work, where high-dosage tutoring comes in. 

Traditionally, Reading Partners establishes dedicated reading centers in each of our partner schools operated by trained AmeriCorp members who provide ongoing coaching and support to volunteers and school staff. During the 2020-21 school year, we were able to pivot with COVID-19 and launched Reading Partners Connects, the digital platform we built to replicate our in-person, one-on-one tutoring model. Our students receive 45 minutes of instruction twice weekly delivered by trained community volunteers using Reading Partners’ research-based curriculum following an Instructional Reading Plan tailored to each student’s particular needs and strengths. Our curriculum also incorporates social-emotional learning opportunities through relationship building with their tutors and dedicated lessons, which is particularly important as the pandemic has dramatically reduced opportunities for students’ social-emotional growth. As we look to next school year, we explore the possibility of expanding to non-school-based sites and adding a small group tutoring component to our program to increase the amount of high-dosage tutoring our students receive. 

As we work toward an equitable recovery, it’s important to remember students have faced tremendous loss this year. Students have experienced lost instructional time, condensed curriculum, and the trauma of social isolation, all of which is further exacerbated for students who were already facing academic gaps before the pandemic. We are confident we can work together with schools, families, and city leaders to open schools next year and begin our recovery, but we know we cannot say mission-accomplished after just one year. Reading Partners is committed to this work now and for the long-term and is looking forward to bringing even more high-dosage tutoring to students who need it most next school year.

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