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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Column: To help students succeed, address COVID-related learning loss

COVID-related school closures shouldn’t hold students back more than they already have.

Addressing pandemic-related learning loss should be at the top of newly inaugurated University President Ellen Granberg’s to-do list. After losing nearly two years of in-person learning to the pandemic, GW’s first-years need summer school programs and participation-based classes to make up for the time they spent learning online.

Amid a nationwide drop in academic performance due to COVID-related school closures, GW economics professors have said students — many of whom spent a large portion of high school at home or behind a computer screen — lack the basic math skills required for their introductory courses.

While teenagers weren’t as vulnerable as older adults to the pandemic’s physical threats, COVID lockdowns took a toll on students’ performance in the classroom. I struggled to learn remotely during my first year at GW in 2020. It was difficult to focus in Zoom lectures, and it was even more challenging to motivate myself about classes I felt so distant from. I could turn my camera off when I didn’t want to participate and tune out professors whose lectures didn’t pique my interest. The lessons from weeks of online classes never added up, and I often resorted to reteaching myself material that I should have already known.

School closures may have been a well-intentioned response to the pandemic, but virtual learning considerably set back students’ academic progress — and it shows. Since returning to in-person classes, college professors have sounded alarms about students whose skills dwindled during the pandemic. Last year’s ACT scores were the nation’s worst in 30 years, and a McGraw Hill poll published late last month showed the share of students who felt being unprepared was the biggest obstacle to their success this semester jumped from 11 percent in 2022 to 21 percent in 2023.

To start addressing the aftershocks of virtual learning, GW should offer weeklong summer programs to incoming students. Summer school often carries negative connotations about underperforming students, but high school seniors need to regain the skills they lost before entering college. Like Rutgers University and the University of Wisconsin system, GW should offer short-term remedial summer classes to help incoming students start the academic year with their best foot forward.

And once incoming students hone skills lost in the haze of the pandemic, professors should keep up the pace in their courses. Traditional lecture-heavy classes that sufficed before the pandemic won’t cut it now that in-person classes are back in session. Professors should look to utilize active learning, which emphasizes consistent participation to help students better connect to course material. When paired with low-stakes quizzes and discussion prompts, partnered activities and interactive lectures provide students with frequent, immediate feedback from their peers and professors that can keep them on track to succeed.

Active learning and summer classes are proven methods of instruction that can help students reach their full potential. An analysis of hundreds of studies showed that students taught with active learning methods perform 6 percent better on exams than those who learn in traditional classroom settings. And down Interstate 66 at George Mason University, a weeklong summer program for incoming students increased math class placement test scores by 59 percent on average.

The University owes current first-years and future students the opportunity to catch their abilities up to speed. It’s not just their learning that’s on the line: A 2022 Harvard University study estimated that students’ pandemic-related learning loss could cost them an average of $19,400 in their lifetime earnings.

COVID-related school closures shouldn’t hold students back more than they already have. GW should emphasize active learning and offer short-term summer classes to lead higher education’s fight against the pandemic’s long tail.

Matthew Donnell, a senior majoring in political communication and English, is an opinions columnist.

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