When The North Shore Weekend talked with Matthew Pietrafetta last October, research on the impact of the pandemic on children’s learning was just starting to trickle in. A larger body of research is now available, and it confirms what we learned from the earlier studies. Globally, the pandemic slowed students’ learning, presenting important challenges for educators, parents, and students.
Academic Approach works with families and students to create customized learning plans to help prepare students for high school entrance exams, the ACT and SAT, and academic subjects in schools. The company also partners with individual schools to share resources, testing, analysis, and training for teachers.
Pietrafetta says that scores for fall 2021 9th graders were the lowest he’s seen. This points to the impact of learning delays these students experienced as 7th and 8th graders. As 9th graders, they are not as prepared as previous classes were.
“We’ll see a learning ripple across the next several years as we gather more data on impact. Yes, the pandemic is over, but the ramifications on student performance still need to be understood, and students are benefitting from Academic Approach’s support,” Pietrafetta says.
All of this begs the question: How will students who need to catch up best prepare for academics in school and standardized tests for admission into private high schools and colleges?
“There isn’t going to be an average impact on students because classrooms consist of diverse learners and schools take diverse approaches to teaching,” Pietrafetta says. “So, you end up arriving at the obvious: there will be no one uniform finding, but there is evidence of impact on a variety of different types of students, and the impact varies by academic subject, by grade level, and by student.”
These differences present important challenges for parents who wish to be proactive in filling any learning gaps for their children. This is especially true for parents whose children might need to test into a private high school or who have children who are starting to think about college. An added challenge is deciding when students should start prepping for the ACT and SAT.
“When we look at our data over the years, there’s a compelling finding: students who start early double their growth compared to late starters. For example, if a sophomore starts prepping a little bit in the spring and does some work over the summer, they show double the growth on junior year spring testing than students who wait to start prepping until the middle of their junior year.”
Pietrafetta says the disparity comes down to the research on cramming vs. spacing. Students feel pressure when they’re in a position of having to learn too much in a short period of time, whereas gradual, repetitive learning leads to better outcomes. It applies to students of all ages and to learning in general.
The research also relates to the “choking factor.” Pietrafetta says research shows that gradual repetition over time decreases anxiety during testing and maximizes memory and retrieval of both simple and complex concepts. He says it’s like developing muscle memory: performance becomes automatic.
“Given that we don’t know where all the learning gaps are, we want to know sooner than later if the student does have some ground to make up, so we have the time to do it gradually, effectively, and without stress,” Pietrafetta says. Academic Approach is assessing a lot of students—in partnership with parents—to estimate where students stand, prioritize needs, and shape personalized learning plans to help them do just that.
“If we test early to determine what is needed, we can take a patient approach to preparation, mitigating stress and maximizing learning over time,” Pietrafetta says. “Taking a thoughtful, gradual approach has always worked best, and, especially now, it is more relevant than ever.”
For more information, visit academicapproach.com/smarthighschoolnsw or call 847-250-9351.