Reopening Schools: 5 Strategies for Addressing Learning Loss

6-minute read

DMGroup is developing advice and support to assist schools and districts in planning and implementing a thoughtful reopening of schools after COVID-19-related closures. Here, we share strategies for schools and districts to make up learning loss from school closures and summer recess.


While many schools have made impressive, bold efforts to rapidly shift to remote instruction during closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the unfortunate reality is that it is unlikely that all critical core content will have been taught and, more importantly, will have been mastered by all students. Moreover, the well-documented challenge of summer learning loss will be even greater this year because students have been away from the routine of school for much longer than a few months. 

The resulting learning loss will present challenges next fall for both students and for teachers. Traditional approaches to scheduling, course offerings, and intervention are not likely the best model for these unprecedented times.

The good news is existing best practices for intervention and emerging ideas for rapid make-up of lost instruction can help shape school and district plans for summer and fall instruction. Consider these five strategies that can have tremendous impact for students and can be implemented within tight budgets.

  1. Identify missed learning standards and content that are prerequisites to future learning
  2. Begin by determining key learning standards and content that are prerequisites to future learning and might not have been fully mastered by students. For example, a student will not succeed in Algebra II without first mastering Algebra I, while European history can be taught even if some content from U.S. history was not taught or fully mastered.

  3. Create a different schedule for the first few months of the school year with longer blocks for addressing missed learning standards and content that are prerequisites for future learning
  4. For subjects in which prior-year content is a foundational prerequisite to future learning such as math, it will be critical that all students have extra instructional time to cover missed chapters or learn missed concepts alongside current-year content. Consider creating a temporary, different schedule for the first few months of the year that includes longer blocks for such subjects, while shortening other periods such as study halls, social studies, or foreign language to maintain the same length of the school day.

  5. Create 6-week catch-up courses to address specific critical missed standards and content
  6. As an alternative to creating a different schedule for the beginning of the school year, consider creating focused, short-term catch-up courses that concentrate on ensuring students have mastered critical prior-year standards and content before new content is introduced. This offers another approach to addressing lost learning and strengthening all students’ foundation for future learning.

  7. Build daily extra help and direct instruction intervention time into schedules for kids who need it across elementary, middle & high schools
  8. Students of all grade levels who continue to need extra help to address prior learning gaps and fully master new content will benefit from having extra instructional time built into the schedule in addition to core content instructional time. Be sure to group students for intervention and make-up courses based on student-specific learning needs, not grade or homeroom.

  9. Take advantage of any staff attrition to add reading, math, and English teachers to provide "extra-time" interventions
  10. It is not enough to simply provide extra time in the schedule for intervention; in order to make the greatest gains, students will need to receive that extra support from a content-strong teacher. As more students are likely to need intervention next fall to make up for lost learning, you may require more staff with expertise in subjects such as reading, math, and English to provide these services. Consider taking advantage of any staff attrition as teachers retire or move away to add capacity to deliver effective “extra-time” interventions without adding costs.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented solutions. The schedules of the past are unlikely to be best, for a while. A structured, thoughtful approach to covering missed content and providing intervention and remediation will help students catch up, and carefully managing resources will help fuel the effort.