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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Already behind, students are asked to do less

Students fell behind in reading and math when schools closed, and they're not likely to catch up if teachers don't assign challenging work, argues TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) in Unlocking Acceleration. The nonprofit partnered with ReadWorks, a free digital literacy resource, to track teachers' assignments.

TNTP's previous research supports the idea that acceleration -- assigning grade-level work and providing help with missing skills or knowledge -- is more effective than remediation. But students are spending more time on below-grade-level work than before the pandemic, especially in high-poverty schools, even if they've shown they're capable of doing grade-level assignments.

Acceleration also works better than remediation in teaching math, according to an analysis by Zearn Math, reports Beth Hawkins on The 74. "Students taught with acceleration strategies completed twice as many grade-level lessons and struggled 17% less than when they were remediated." Zearn also found that "Black, Latino and low-income students were more likely to be remediated in math — even when they had already mastered grade-level work."

The study of reading found that "students were just as successful on grade-level work as they were on remedial content, answering nearly two-thirds of questions correctly regardless of the difficulty of the assignment," writes Hawkins.

However, "the report contains one important caveat," she writes. "Students missing the foundational reading skills to understand phonics and turn printed words into sounds will need different learning acceleration that prioritizes those elements."

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