COVID-19 Learning – The Obstacles, Mitigation and Where We Go From Here

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) was tasked with monitoring the educational impacts of COVID-19 during 2020-21, the first full year of virtual/hybrid learning. They partnered with Gallup to conduct a national survey of K-12 public school teachers. In addition, they had virtual discussion groups with teachers, principals/assistant principals, and parents. The information that follows is based on the findings of this survey.

The reports indicate that students in grades K-2 and 3-8 began the school year with academic deficits. Unfortunately, 45 percent of teachers surveyed noted that at least half of their students ended the school year behind, and 64 percent of teachers reported students who made less academic progress during 2020-21 than they would during a typical pre-pandemic year. It’s important to note that the survey did not define “academic progress” or “behind grade level.” 

Obstacles to Learning

The study found that students in all grade levels in both virtual and hybrid learning environments were faced with a number of obstacles that negatively impacted learning. The most frequently reported obstacles of student academic growth included

  • Lack of appropriate workspaces
  • Absences from school or class
  • Difficulty completing assignments and homework
  • Failing or being significantly behind in a class
  • Signs of emotional distress
  • Difficulty getting assistance or support
  • Focus or attention issues
  • Late arrival and early departure from class
  • Limited or no class participation

A review of some of the statistics reveals that 60 percent of virtual environment teachers reported that students had more difficulty understanding lessons as opposed to 37 percent of teachers in an in-person environment. It’s important to note that obstacles varied by grade level. Among high school teachers responding, 92 percent reported that social or emotional issues were major contributing factors to lack of academic progress as opposed to 83 percent in grades 3 through 8 and 69 percent in grades K-2. English Language Learners and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were most significantly impacted.

Mitigating Learning Loss

Teachers used many strategies in an effort to support student success. The following strategies proved helpful for students

  • Live instruction (synchronous) – 85 percent of teachers who taught.
  • Technology apps or platforms – ⅔ of teachers who used apps or platforms for students to submit work and to provide feedback thought it was helpful for their students. 
  • One-on-one check ins – building relationships with students is important so taking the time to check in with all students individually was key for building confidence and ensuring understanding.
  • Small group tutoring – this solution works best in person, but small group instruction helps solidify learning.

Where We Go From Here

Parents, and educators suggested some of the following as ways to help strengthen learning moving forward

  • More opportunities for individualized instruction/attention
  • Reducing class sizes or improving student:teacher ratios
  • Provide greater opportunity for family involvement

The pandemic has had a huge toll on education, especially on student learning and outcomes, with vulnerable students being particularly hard hit. “The effects (of COVID-19) continue to reverberate across the nation and produce challenges for schools that will likely be felt for years to come,” the report states.


Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.

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