• May 16, 2022
 Op-Ed: You have experienced “Learning Loss.”  Are you OK?

Interrupted line. Pencil with broken point.

Op-Ed: You have experienced “Learning Loss.” Are you OK?

When you were in school, somewhere along the way, you probably “learned” some, if not all, of the following things:

  • Causes of the War if 1812.
  • How to factor a quadratic equation.
  • The elements that made up the “Noble Gases.”
  • A list of prepositional phrases.
  • The capitols of every state in the US.
  • How many millimeters in a centimeter.

If someone asked you today to factor a quadratic equation, would you be able to do so? Would you be able to have a decent conversation about the causes of the war of 1812? Could you get down and give me 20 prepositional phrases?

I suspect that you probably would not be able to remember those things that you “learned” all those years ago. You would, as everyone else would, go to your nearest web browser and look up the answers.  (There is some debate among educators whether you truly “learned” something if you have forgotten it, but that is another essay.)

We saw this “learning loss” in adults as parents across the country struggled to help their children make sense of lessons from math to science to social studies during Covid-related online learning. Parents with all kinds of post-secondary degrees had trouble working with their children in elementary schools.

The cry “I don’t remember doing it this way” was heard across the land as parents struggled to remember what the distributive property of addition was and how to write a persuasive essay or describe how Washington’s Farewell Address influenced the nation.  You had experienced, as the phrase goes, “learning loss.”

In fact, unless you have some kind of eidetic memory like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory, chances are you probably have forgotten a large proportion of those topics that you were taught in school. That includes college as well. Use it or lose as they say. You didn’t use it, so you lost it.

But you survived. You are okay. In fact, you are doing so well that you are getting along nicely, thank you, without having to know the major players in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. And Lord knows that you haven’t been asked to add up the degrees of the interior angles of a triangle (180 degrees by the way) in quite some time.

You are surviving your own personal learning loss. And our students, your kids, will do the same, because learning loss is sort of not a real thing.

Think about this: What subjects are most spoken about when schools, teachers, educators and politicians talk about “learning loss?” Reading and Math. That’s pretty much it. They might throw in Science and Social Studies, but never Fine Arts learning loss. Never major sports learning loss. Never Speech or Drama or PE learning loss.

It is always learning loss in terms of the subjects that are tested. The standardized test.

Students that miss school may not recall things as we wish they would, but educators have always dealt with that type of situational loss of knowledge. We’ve called it the “summer slide” and used it as an excuse to spend an ungodly amount of valuable class time reteaching that which students already know.

So, Jimmy forgot the order of the planets from the sun outwards. Do we really need to spend an entire morning reminding him and the rest of the class, or can we just direct them to a website with the information to jog their memories? We don’t have to revisit an entire year.

We find where students have missed or forgotten, and we get them up to speed.

Framing the idea of learning loss around these “tested” subjects makes one wonder who is driving the discussion. Who has the most to lose if students are doing poorly on standardized tests? The answer, of course, is those that are most invested in the standardized test: the states and the companies that make the tests.

The State of Texas is so concerned that they recently passed HB 4545 which forces the unfunded mandate on EVERY school district to tutor students that show below-grade level expectations (based on those standardized tests). Districts are scrambling to hire, at their own expense, tutors for these students, that must be tutored in groups no larger than three.

Students that are below subject area expectations must take 30 hours of tutoring before the next test. Everything revolves around the test and getting students ready for the test. Note that the state took NO funding away from the test itself to help districts defer the costs of getting the students ready for the test.

It is academic “tail wagging the dog” at its best. If the state were serious about getting students “up to speed” they would have cancelled the tests this year, given districts a year to regroup and get students up to speed and then reinstated the tests in the following year.

The message is clear: The test reigns as the final arbiter of what “learning” is in Texas.

We know that teachers can get students “where they need to be” academically. That is their job. They have been doing that for years. We shouldn’t use the ambiguous and academically dubious term “learning loss” as an excuse to drive education further into the “Test is everything” mentality.

We lose those things we don’t use. That is life. We don’t need to know that there are 10 millimeters in a centimeter unless we use it in our everyday experience. Maybe now is the time to ask ourselves what is truly important to teach and what is truly important to know.

You and I and all our kids have learning loss and we are all ok.

Author: Tim Holt

Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment, over at his site.  Read his previous columns here.


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Tim Holt


Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

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