Last time The North Shore Weekend caught up with Matthew Pietrafetta, CEO of Academic Approach, he said we wouldn’t know how much students were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic until another round of standardized testing was complete.
Results from testing are starting to trickle in and they show that students who were put in the position of having to learn remotely or who faced other constraints now must meet the challenges of catching up.
“There were a lot of predictions that students could lose as much as 50 percent learning, especially in math, compared to an average school year,” Pietrafetta says. “Now the data we’re seeing show that the impact is significant but far less than the direst predictions suggested.”
A recent report from ACT, the college entrance exam maker, shows a drop in scores in all subjects among juniors and seniors. ACT equates this to a drop of three months of academic learning in the classroom.
However, this data come from students who were able to test in person for the 2020-2021 school year.
“The students missing from this testing data set, in many cases, are from underserved areas where they lacked access to in-person schooling and testing,” he says. “We still don’t have 100 percent year-over-year testing data across all the different demographics to assess and answer the question of how much learning loss occurred.”
Pietrafetta prefers to view the latest numbers as indicative of a learning delay rather than as a loss. It is something that can absolutely be overcome with concerted effort.
Academic Approach is the Chicago area’s premier test preparation and tutoring company and was founded by Pietrafetta two decades ago. It is times like these when students have faced learning disruptions that the company’s services are vital. In addition to working with families, Academic Approach also partners with schools, school districts, and community organizations to share its expertise more broadly.
“I think what we’ve all known—those of us who work in education, those of us who are parents—is that for the past year and a half our students haven’t been as rigorously engaged in academic work as we have seen in the past and as we want them to be,” says Pietrafetta. “We all got a window into what school looked like, and it just wasn’t the same.”
Pietrafetta says some of the biggest delays brought on by the pandemic are in the younger grades, simply because the younger the student, the more likely the student is to lack both the foundational skills and academic behaviors to compensate for disrupted learning.
“It really does depend upon the data available to the school. If the school hasn’t been testing and comparing year-over-year trends, then you don’t know what you don’t know,” Pietrafetta says. “What you don’t know can hurt you because it’s difficult to know the exact impact on any particular subject or grade level without the data and its analysis.”
While he focuses on how students were impacted academically the last two years, Pietrafetta acknowledges that understanding how they were impacted socially and emotionally is as or more important.
“The first priority was and remains the social and emotional, making sure our children are safe physically as they’re dealing with the pandemic and maintaining their social and emotional health,” he says. “There are reverberating effects of depression and trauma that educators are focused on.”
Pietrafetta recently participated in a panel discussion about the importance of social and emotional health and how educators and parents can help students grow both emotionally and academically.
“The conversation covered many important topics relevant to social and emotional learning (SEL) and how parents can support the development of their children’s SEL skills,” Pietrafetta says. “From promoting self-management skills to working with teachers to encourage students’ self-advocacy, the topics are relevant to current education research and include practical advice for parents to apply with children across a range of ages.”
Pietrafetta talked about how to encourage “active learners” by focusing on their passions and helping them to plan and prepare to learn. “Growth-minded learners,” who understand that learning is a process, can be encouraged through positive reinforcement to continually improve.
“In the end, we want to cultivate children/ students who are active, resilient problem-solvers in school and in life,” Pietrafetta says.
“As parents and educators, we all are actively engaged in this classroom.”
For more information, visit academicapproach.com or call 888-394-5060.