Are You at a Loss Confronting Learning Loss?

Educators continue to do exceptional work during extraordinary times. As they begin to dream about life after a pandemic, they are acutely aware of the toll this last year has taken on them and their students. Whether students have been learning remotely in their busy homes or in outstretched classrooms with their expressions hidden behind masks, one thing is certain: learning has definitely been different. As a result, teachers and school leaders are understandably wrestling with the question: Which students have fallen behind in their learning? In educational jargon this is often boiled down to two words: Learning Loss

As part of the federal government’s stimulus packages, schools may receive funding to address learning loss. The result has been a flood of vendors entering the market claiming their product can help address learning loss. Their pitch often sounds something like this: “If a district would only buy the Data Whiz 1000, they could identify all their students with learning loss, bring them back to full achievement, and return to a time when all students and staff jovially skipped through the hallways.” 

I wish it was that simple. 

Any attempt at answering questions on learning loss must begin with an honest conversation about the following:

How do we measure learning? Should it be based on nationally-normed assessments, state-level exams, district-created key performance indicators, or teacher-created assessments? Are we measuring only academic performance or are we also measuring social-emotional learning and other life skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking? 

What does “loss” mean? Does that mean students aren’t meeting a benchmark set for all students? Does it mean students have regressed in their academic knowledge and skills? Does it mean students haven’t grown academically compared to their classmates? Or, does it mean students have not met their own individual projected learning growth? Furthermore, does learning loss mean students might fail classes, not graduate, and/or become withdrawn from future work?

At Five Star, we’ve been helping schools across the country measure and monitor student achievement for over 15 years. We know learning loss is not solved by any product. It requires a partnership.  Here are three lessons we’ve learned through our partnership with schools.  

  1. Collaboration is Key – Learning is messy. So is measuring and reporting on it. Empowering students to own their learning and strive to overcome any gaps in their learning is even harder. Our team of former educators, school administrators, and dedicated developers don’t pretend to have all the answers. However, our experience helps us work with schools to identify their most pressing questions, clarify measurable outcomes, and build data visualizations and strategies aligned to those needs.
  2. Customization is Critical – The way schools want to measure learning is as varied as the ways students learn. A district’s needs today will likely be different six months from now. As a result, student learning reports and dashboards must be easily adapted and customized to meet the changing needs of each individual school. 
  3. Quick Wins Create Confidence – If the process of implementing or using data visualizations for schools is cumbersome and complicated, busy school staff will understandably shift their attention to other issues. Technology staff and school leaders don’t have time to massage their data into a usable format or carve out time to learn a complex system. What they want (and deserve) is a solution that quickly answers one of their pressing questions. 

At Five Star, we do data differently by combining our experience in education with the power and flexibility of Google’s tools to empower students and staff with the information they need. Our data management services team handles importing school assessment data into our data warehouse (Pivot) where educators can access test-specific reports and view longitudinal student data all in one place. Our analytics team uses the stored assessment data, the power of Google BigQuery, and flexibility of Google Data Studio to build beautiful, intuitive reports (tailored to each district’s needs) to answer the big questions they are trying to answer. The result is that educators spend less time managing data and more time acting on data. In short, it is our partnership with schools that sets us apart from other vendors. 

For ideas and contact information on how your school can partner with Five Star to monitor student learning visit fivestartech.com/data-analytics.

Together, we can quickly change the focus from learning loss to learning gains.


Written by Brad Fischer
Senior Director of Data Analytics
Five Star Technology Solutions