State Journal consults School of Education experts in article about supporting student needs in return to school

The Wisconsin State Journal utilized the expertise of three people with ties to the School of Education in an article about supporting both the academic and social-emotional needs of students when they return to school — whether it’s online, in person, or a hybrid of both — this fall.

Gloria Ladson-Billings

“The academic side is not separate from the social-emotional side,” Gloria Ladson-Billings, a professor emerita in the School of Education, tells the State Journal. “There is a different kind of temperature taking, if you will, that kids will have to really be able to process this experience. What has it meant to be away from school, to be away from friends, to miss loved ones, to process the fact that some loved ones have passed on?”

Mitchell Nathan, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of the learning sciences and a faculty member with the School of Education’s departments of Educational Psychology, and Curriculum and Instruction, said “it’s too early to know what sort of effect the closure of school buildings in March has had on learning.”

“There certainly is going to be an experience of a substantial loss of academic progress as a result and combination of the disruption in the spring and on top of that the summer seasonal loss,” Nathan said.


Nathan added the slide typically leads to a greater loss of math skills than skills in reading, because “math is something students need to regularly practice, while reading can happen informally and independently.”

Nathan also noted that research has shown that time out of school inequitably affects students depending on their socioeconomic status.

“One of the things that’s very promising about the projections based on other kinds of disruptions is that it’s not necessarily the case that the loss of progress is irreversible,” Nathan said. “Kids in the past who have shown the largest loss due to school disruption also subsequently then show the greatest gains when they return to school.”


Beverly Trezek, an associate professor and the Tashia F. Morgridge Chair in Reading with the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, said coming out of summer break, teachers typically identify student needs and intensify instruction in those areas. That’ll be especially important this fall, she said, though she also said it may be complicated by the cancellation of mandatory statewide assessments — such as Wisconsin’s Forward Exam — this past spring.

Nathan said that teachers will need to tailor instruction to children’s specific needs. “Teachers do this all the time during the normal school year anyways,” he said, “but I think we can expect these variations are going to be more dramatic in the fall than they have been in prior years.”

Ultimately, Ladson-Billings said she sees the disruption caused by the pandemic as an “opportunity for a ‘hard reset’ to the ways schools have traditionally operated.”

“There’s been a lot of discourse about getting back to normal,” she said. “I want to suggest, particularly for the students who are most vulnerable academically, that normal is not where they want to go, because normal was where their problems were.”

For more insights from Ladson-Billings, Nathan, Trezek, and other experts, check out the full article on the website, here.

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