3 Steps to Mitigate Learning Loss: An Actionable Plan to Start Today

While discussing the inevitable fallout for public schools from the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. John Craft, Killeen ISD superintendent, said to me: “Here is our #1 concern right now: how do we mitigate the learning loss of this last nine weeks? We know, despite our best efforts, the gap is widening.” I immediately went into full “nerd” mode, as my curriculum and instruction background kicked into high gear! John is one of those superintendents who can truly “talk shop” regarding academics, and he echoed what I have been thinking (and telling our team) since March. That recent conversation with him and other ed leaders from across our state, coupled with my anxiety over the issue of an increasing achievement gap when our very mission is to close the gap, inspired this blog. If I were still leading the teaching and learning protocols in a district, this is precisely what I would put into place, and the following 3-step plan is what we, at engage2learn (e2L), will use to assist our district partners for the next academic year.

Step 1: Scaffold the Standards

When: May 2020


The heroic effort of school districts notwithstanding, we have to assume that the last nine weeks did not result in mastery of the standards for every learner. Scaffolding the missed standards into the scope and sequence for next year is critical and will give teachers a viable starting place for planning. (Any mastery of standards that did occur will be addressed with Step 3.)


  1. You can use our free workspace Scaffolding the Standards, and–of course–all the great resources from my friend and colleague, Ervin Knezek and Lead4ward, to scaffold the standards from the last nine weeks of 2019-20 vertically into clusters within the first nine weeks of 2020-21. 
  2. Focus on priority standards, and ensure there is a conceptual connection for the integration. Fortunately, most pacing guides for this time of the academic year take into account time needed for review and testing, so there is a good chance that missed standards can be (mostly) mastered within the first nine weeks of the fall. 
  3. Update your Scope and Sequence accordingly to share with teachers for planning.

What not to do:

It is important to strategically abandon any program that is focused only on one standard at a time, as these programs will not work for 2020-21 (or really any academic year in Texas if you are using the TEKS). There is no possible way for students to “catch up” on standards mastery unless the standards are clustered.

Step 2: Level the Standards and Align Resources

When: May 2020 – June 2020


Knowing that learners will enter the Fall at various levels of mastery (much like they always do but with the additional uncertainty of precious little viable end-of-year data), having leveled entry points and resources aligned to those differentiated levels of learning is crucial. This step is more complex than Step 1 but critical nonetheless to ensure that mastery can occur with no time lost for any learner. This step leads to closing the achievement gap and increasing equity by organizing learning based on needs!


  1. One way to level the standards is to use this Higher-Order Thinking Tool that uses Bloom’s/Anderson’s Taxonomy, Costa’s Levels of Questions, and/or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge as a guide.
  2. Provide this set of leveled standards to any “designers” of learning for the Fall, including your curriculum and instruction team (if they are creating exemplar units) and teachers as they plan lessons.
  3. All lessons, activities, resources, assessments, etc. need to be aligned to a standards-based level of thinking.

What not to do:

Do not use free resources just because they are free! It has been amazing to see business partners and associations share so many free resources to help school districts during this crisis. Still, if the resources are not aligned–intentionally– to the level of depth and complexity in the standards, the time spent on those resources is wasted for teachers and learners alike…when, frankly, there is literally no time to waste. Be discriminating. Vendors want to sell broadly to every state and often “align” content loosely to topics or concepts in standards for all states. Strategically abandon any resource that does not have deep alignment.

Step 3: Create a Competency-Based Learning Environment

When: August 2020 – September 2020


After five months of variability in learning conditions, especially for our most vulnerable students, the one-sized-fits-all approach will increasingly widen the gap significantly while also boring students who have used this virtual learning opportunity to accelerate their mastery. In order to accelerate learning for every student this Fall, we have to make the pivotal shift to true, Tier 1 differentiated learning, which can be accomplished through a competency-based system. There has never been a more necessary time to transform the “classroom” into a competency-based, highly differentiated experience, in which every learner can use every minute to “level up” from his or her unique starting place. 


  1. Teachers create and administer standards-aligned, leveled pre-assessments to collect data to be used as a starting point that is personalized to each student. If you want more info on leveled pre-assessments see, How Pre-Assessments Ease the Burden of Distance Learning. This blog by one of our e2L-certified coaches who implemented our framework for differentiated learning in her classroom in a Texas school district. 
  2. Next, teachers use the leveled standards to create a tracking tool that students can use as a personalized playlist based on leveled standards for each lesson/unit. If you want more details on how to build these leveled rubric trackers (which my team affectionately calls a “Buerk Rubric,” because it is literally our secret sauce to getting amazing results with all learners!), reach out, and we can help. Drop a comment below or contact me directly at shannon@engage2learn.org.
  3. e2L recently published two resources centered on competency-based learning models public school educators can use right away. They are called the GROWE Learning Process and e2L Learning Model; both resources are free to eNet Members!

What not to do:

Differentiated, competency-based learning does not involve (1) rotating everyone through stations or, (2) implementing Tier 1 Differentiated instruction in a whole-group setting. These options are highly inefficient when it comes to mastery learning in any situation, but especially when there is (undoubtedly) a more substantial variability in starting places for all learners. By the way, this also does not mean that teachers need to create an individualized plan for each learner if Step 1 is in place and learner-facing, the students can use a process and data from pre-assessments to develop their own pathways. And that, my friends, will be in another blog coming soon!

1 thought on “3 Steps to Mitigate Learning Loss: An Actionable Plan to Start Today

  1. I would appreciate some guidance on the personalized playlists based on leveled standards and the Buerk rubric! Thank you so much!

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