Back to School Resources:

Supporting Student Learning

This page is part of a larger series titled Back to School Resources 2020.  To see the full list of topics, visit the Back to School Resources 2020 Landing Page.  


When students left the classroom and learning began at home, the instructional environment, delivery, and content was altered for all students.  Each family, student, and teacher journeyed through this change differently.   Social and emotional experiences compound this academic shift and uniquely impact each learner.  As a result, students will be returning with a variety of academic experiences from remote learning and from a time without classroom assessments or benchmark data that is typically available to help understand student learning. 

“Provide tasks that are accessible to all students, observe student’s thinking, and build conversations that facilitate connections.”

It will be helpful to approach the school year with the mindset that that students are not “behind,” but that there will be skills that students have not learned yet.  That simple phrase, “I have not learned that yet,” will go a long way to reframe learning lags and empower students as the new school year begins.  Hold the belief that “students can learn all new concepts with the right shared experiences.” Provide tasks that are accessible to all students, observe student’s thinking, and build conversations that facilitate connections.  Focus on building a learning community where students can learn with and from each other and can highlight connections between previous and new concepts.   

The 3-tiered system of academic support will continue to meet the needs of all learners.  It is always important, especially this year, to begin every school year cultivating the community of students in your classrooms.  As students grow in comfort and engagement with others, they will be more available to learn. We can then focus on providing robust classroom instruction to ultimately use our informal and formal assessments to identify students in need of intensive, research-based instruction. 

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When do we conduct Benchmark Assessments this year? 

Most teachers have become accustomed to using Univeral Screeners as Benchmark Assessments to help them know what instruction students need – this is good practice! In an effort to address the typical “summer slide” that may now be combined with “COVID-19 slide” you may be tempted to get those assessments completed right away. However, as you think about how to best do universal screening this coming fall, you need to take into consideration some variables. 

This year more than ever, students will need to learn how to learn in a group again. They’ll need time to learn new routines. They will be building or rebuilding relationships with each other and their teachers. They will be learning how to be a part of a community. For many students there will be extra anxieties surrounding their return to the classroom. It will be important to not interrupt this time by upsetting the classroom routines by pulling kids or teachers out of their classrooms to complete benchmark assessments. 

Some schools have decided to conduct their universal screeners by appointment before the school year starts, so that the beginning-of-the-year routines won’t be interrupted. Another option is to hold off for a few weeks before doing your benchmark assessments to give students an opportunity to get back into the mindset of learning.  

How do we still follow a Response to Intervention model to help us address our students’ lagging skills?  

Intensify Tier One (Universal) Instruction: Many of us are familiar with the three-tiered pyramid of academic instruction and the methods of Response tIntervention. Tier One, or Universal Instruction, represents the curriculum, instruction, and assessment that all of our students receive. One way to support all students who have additional academic and social emotional needs is by focusing and intensifying resources at the Tier One level. Begin by considering what key skills would have been taught last year from March through May. 

You may increase the amount of time spent on specific skills. For example, if you find that many students coming back to school have lost automaticity with their math facts, you may extend math instruction for five minutes a day and have students practice their facts with a peer. Instead of one lesson on social-emotional behavior per week, maybe you can have intentional activities focused on social emotional behavior every single day.  


You may target specific skills. For example, we may expect that all first-grade teachers address phonemic awareness every day. Perhaps in the past, each teacher has decided how to do this and for how long, but this fall we want all first-grade teachers to spend 15 minutes per day focusing on specific phonemic awareness skills. It’s likely our students have not been spending much time writing in the past few months. Middle school students may benefit from a review of sentence structure, paragraph, and essay writing before they are ready to get back to writing for content.  

You may focus on Learning Intentions to show students the relationship between the tasks they are completing and the purpose for learning. Follow All Belong’s blog for recent articles on Assessment and Learning (connect to Phil and Megan’s blog). 

In addition, frequent, ongoing assessment following whole class intervention on a weekly or bi-weekly basis can help to establish student learning rates, identify which students are progressing on an expected trajectory of growth, and which student will benefit from additional support.  This data can then be added to the student file to help determine when and if further support and/or evaluation is needed. 

Additional Resources 

Class-wide Reading Interventions 

Class-wide Writing Interventions 

Class-wide Math Interventions 

After a few weeks of intensified Tier One instruction, students not making adequate progress will need more intensive researchedbased instruction matched to their lagging skills. Typically, Tier Two instruction happens in small groups. There are some things to consider, especially this year: 

Tier Two Instruction Considerations: 

  • Can Tier Two needs be met in the classroom? Consider structuring your classroom for small group instruction or invite para-professionals into your classroom so that students don’t miss being a part of the whole group. 
  • As always, social emotional factors come into play. Which students need small group instruction may be a little different this year. For a student who has never needed small group instruction before, receiving small group instruction could cause apprehension or anxiety. Using the language of “haven’t learned this yet” will be very helpful for students.  
  • Be cautious that small groups don’t become stagnant. Tier Two instruction is designed to be short-term and to address a specific skill. Monitor student progress every few weeks and adjust your intervention strategies accordingly.        
  • Of course, you’ll need to identify which students and which skills need Tier Two support. Before you complete the fall benchmark assessments, use data that you already have. This might be information from last year’s benchmark assessments or progress monitoring. It’s wise to plan that students who needed support last school year will need at least the same level of support that they were receiving last March. You can also use in-class tools to find things like guided reading levels to help inform your instruction.  

Pearson, the makers of aimswebPlus, produced a webinar titled End-of-Year Wrap-up and Back to School Preparation.  The section on Re-entry Instruction and Assessment Planning is especially helpful as we consider how to meet the needs of students as they come back to school this fall (you will find this section starting at minute 25:00 through 48:00).

For students already in the referral process, evaluations should be completed as soon as possible in a safe and thoughtful manner.  Information from parents will be beneficial to better understand each students unique remote learning experiences, including the student and family’s social and emotional experiences during the pandemic This information can be gathered informally or with the use of a formal survey.  Additionally, as new information is gathered upon the return to school through both formal and informal assessments, that information can be shared to enhance the evaluation process.   

Prior to consideration for an evaluation, the referral team will need to ensure that students have had robust core instruction and access to evidence-based intervention—academic, behavioral, and social-emotional—for a sustained period of time.  Leaning into the student’s history of need prior to the pandemic can also inform the nature and level of academic concern.  The student’s access and engagement to remote learning and the social-emotional impact should also be considered.  With these elements confirmed and learning continues to lag, the protocol established within your school can then guide the referral process.