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How to find out if kids really had an academic slide

By Trynia Kaufman, MS

School and learning looked different for most kids during the pandemic. Some kids experienced more stress and anxiety, making it harder to learn. And many kids who get special education services had disruptions in services or supports.

Academic slide, or “COVID slide,” is top of mind for lots of parents and teachers this year. Kids who learn and think differently may also be concerned about whether they’ve fallen behind.

But not all kids are behind. Many kids actually did well during distance or hybrid learning.

So how can you tell if kids need extra support? Below are ways to find out where kids’ skills really are. 

Start by talking with kids. 

Set aside time to talk with kids about their learning. How are they feeling about school? What areas were the hardest or the easiest last year?

Help kids fill out this back-to-school worksheet . Use it to reflect on last year and to make a plan for the new school year.

Look at last year’s assessments. 

This might be standardized assessments (if available) or a recent IEP evaluation. You can also look at classroom tests, assignments, or projects. Remember that assessments are only a snapshot of how kids performed. They’re part of the picture, but not the

If kids get special education services, look at their IEP to find the present level of performance section, IEP goals, and progress reports. These will tell you how a student is progressing on grade-level standards. 

Prioritize the skills kids need this year.

Look at what skills and knowledge kids need for the upcoming grade level. Then think about where they might need more support to achieve grade-level learning goals. (Scroll to the bottom to find skill lists by grade.) 

Don’t forget about areas like science, social studies, and social skills. Knowledge of the world and the ability to work with others is important at every age. Building world knowledge and vocabulary also helps with reading comprehension.

Watch for emotional or behavioral signs.

Kids who are struggling with school often experience emotional distress and low self-esteem. They might seem anxious, withdrawn, or depressed. Some kids avoid schoolwork or act out. 

Remember there are other reasons that kids might show strong emotions or have behavioral challenges. For example, some kids might be reacting to transitions and changes. If you’re concerned about back-to-school anxiety, here’s what to watch out for .

Collaborate. 

Strong family-teacher partnerships are key to figuring out how kids are doing — especially after a tough year. You don’t need to wait until parent-teacher conferences to start communicating. 

Schedule time to talk about support kids need at school and home. Bring questions to ask and any observations you may have. This back-to-school update can help families share important information about their kids with a new teacher. 

If you’re seeing signs that kids are struggling or falling behind, there are more things you can do.

  • Parents and caregivers: Take N.O.T.E. can help you track what you’re observing and decide on next steps.

  • Teachers: Universal Design for Learning principles can help you meet the needs of the wide range of learners in your classroom. 

Academic readiness skills by grade

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