The 2020-21 school year will undoubtedly be among the more challenging educational journeys in recent memory, for students and parents alike. Fortunately, the harried and, let’s face it, largely ineffective COVID Spring semester has taught educators and parents lessons that can make this new school year much more successful. The educators at Varsity Tutors will explore some of these strategies in a three-part series including How to Help Students Who Are Just Struggling and Extracurriculars and Elective Classes; in today’s installment, we tackle the now-infamous COVID Slide.


Let’s start by just explaining what the COVID Slide is--and by noting that it’s not as new as it may sound. Every summer schools take about 10 weeks off, and over that time there is a notable regression in students’ math and reading skills. This regression has become known as the “summer slide.” And since COVID-19 created a less effective spring than usual in most schools, and led to an extra few weeks off as schools closed early or are starting late, the COVID Slide promises to be an even steeper challenge for students hoping to be ready to thrive in the next grade.


An important thing to note is that the summer slide really just amounts to “use it or lose it” - most kids read less over the summer and nearly all kids do less math over the summer, so the regression just reflects the fact that when those muscles haven’t been exercised, they atrophy a bit.  A newer wrinkle with the COVID slide is that a longer summer slide is also accompanied by the fact that an ugly spring semester left many students not just with skills that have gotten rusty, but some skills that they never fully learned or understood.


But there’s hope! Ways that you can overcome the COVID Slide include:


  • Encourage students to read and use numbers in ways that they enjoy. The “use it or lose it” nature of skill regression is best combated by just using it. And that use doesn’t have to come specifically from academics: if a student loves reading Harry Potter, you don’t have to fight her to read The Catcher in the Rye instead. The fact that she’s reading will help overcome that slide. The same goes for math: while extra math worksheets would certainly help, too, if she’s happy calculating fantasy football statistics or differences in election polls, she’s doing math and overcoming the summer regression.
  • Diagnose (and address) the specific skills that most need attention. The COVID Slide isn’t uniform - each student has his own set of skills that got rusty over the summer, or that weren’t taught the way he needed during the spring - and not all skills are created equal in regard to their importance in the next grade. You can forget the formulas for a rhombus and never have it come up again, but if you aren’t comfortable with right triangles then coordinate geometry and trigonometry will be unbearable. Tools like Varsity Tutors’ Learning Lab can provide you with efficient diagnostics to determine which skills your student needs to address, and free, customized lesson plans to address the more important ones in a logical order.