Sylvan Learning Explains How to Know if Your Child is Seriously Behind in School or Just “2020 Behind”

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Sylvan Learning VP of Education Emily Levitt on how to tell if your student’s progress has been hampered by virtual learning or if there is a more serious cause for concern.

Ensuring the quality of your child’s education has never been an easy task, but with last year’s upheaval of the daily school routine and the near-overnight pivot to virtual learning, measuring a student’s progress has become more difficult than ever before.

So how can you tell if your child is seriously behind in school or just “2020 behind,” and how do you fix it? Sylvan has worked with students at 750 points of presence across the world, and we have four decades of experience identifying the key metrics of student progress. Here's what you need to know about how to think about student progress and distance learning.

The “COVID slide”

First, let’s talk about the “COVID slide,” a much-written-about phenomenon that sees children making slow or no progress in their education as school buildings remain closed. The term “COVID slide” comes from another kind of slide teachers see fairly often. Every fall, teachers observe a “summer slide,” where students forgot much of what they knew at the end of the last school year. Students started the 2020 - 2021 school year having missed parts of their education due to COVID closures, and compounded those losses with the typical summer slide. This has both teachers and students attempting to catch up under less than ideal circumstances. And, because the pandemic and related school closures are still ongoing, we have yet to understand the true scope of how children were affected by this disruption.

If your child was struggling with school before COVID, then odds are they will have fared worse than the average student during COVID and the gaps in their education have only grown. That’s what extensive research from Renaissance, a standardized testing company that’s partnered with Sylvan, tells us. We also know that if your student was learning English or has special learning needs, then the time to worry has passed. Now it’s time to take action.

Even if your child was doing well before COVID but struggled to keep up with distance learning, don’t count on school reopenings to bring them back to speed.

Research shows children are now three months behind schedule in school. While that may not seem like much given the long-term disruption COVID has brought, at the pace of regular schooling, it would take 2-3 years to make up that time. The longer this backwards slide remains unaddressed, the longer it will take students to catch up.

How Sylvan Can Help

Luckily, Sylvan has decades of experience bridging educational gaps for all types of learners. While the pandemic has deepened gaps in education, Sylvan has developed the tools to heal those divides by meeting each and every student where they need help on their educational journey.

Sylvan does this by first understanding exactly why the child is behind and what their teacher’s expectations are. Once they understand the nature of the student’s challenges, they can build a program to address them.

That’s when you’ll find out if your student is truly behind or just COVID behind.

Sylvan also offers a School Support service that allows parents to drop kids off at a Sylvan center where a certified tutor helps them get through their daily tasks in remote schooling with a socially distanced set-up. If your child is just struggling with the online format and needs tech support, the tutor can do that. If your child is actually struggling with the subject matter, the tutor will work closely with them, using a customized program to bring them up to speed.

How Parents Can Help

Sylvan takes pride in helping families — not just students — get through educational challenges together. For parents with children struggling in school, there are many productive ways to engage their children’s minds outside of school.

Firstly, parents should make sure their child is reading for at least 20 minutes a day. If that’s a struggle, read with them or to them. The more practice they get, the better they will be.

Many children need lots of help with math. Parents can create games or flashcards to engage their child’s math brain. For instance, parents can make every trip to the supermarket a game, adding and subtracting prices or counting produce. You can also give common games a math twist. Instead of numbers in hopscotch, write simple equations in the squares. In Twister, use sticky notes to put simple equations on each colored circle. Left foot on answer 5!

The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but most unfair to children. At Sylvan, we know that together, dedicated parents can help their children achieve their full potential.

With more than 40 years of experience and more than 750 points of presence throughout North America, Sylvan Learning is the leading provider of personal learning for students in grades K-12. Sylvan is transforming how students learn, inspiring them to succeed in school and in life. Sylvan’s proven tutoring approach blends amazing teachers with SylvanSync™ technology on the iPad® for an engaging learning experience. Sylvan also leads the way with Sylvan EDGE—STEM and accelerated courses and Sylvan Prep —college and test prep courses. Sylvan supports families through every stage of the academic journey. For more information, visit or

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Lauren Turner
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