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Traditional responses exacerbate gaps in learning

With disruptions in schooling due to COVID-19, concerns regarding learning loss are magnified, and how we respond in this moment will impact the future of our country. Traditional definitions and responses will not adequately serve students. To address learning loss in the 21st century, we must reframe the definition and our response.

As a national not-for-profit, we help school systems in their response to learning loss. Below, find resources to support your important work. 

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We must now design new ways to address these new challenges—presenting an opportunity to address another gap in learning that is often not considered but is even more concerning. This is the gap in equipping all young people  with rigorous content knowledge and 21st  century success skills—deeper learning—a pre-requisite for a successful, fulfilling life.



The research is clear—content knowledge is important, but alone it is insufficient to prepare young people to respond to unique, complex challenges in this rapidly changing world.

All students must be equipped with rigorous content knowledge and 21st century success skills to prepare them for success in this ever-changing world.

“The students who are furthest from opportunity, most need opportunities to do authentic work and to feel that they are being treated as capable, creative humans. Yes, they also need to get better at reading, and we also need to address that foundational skill gap, but that should not preclude asking those kids to do real work that has consequence.”
– Dr. Sarah Fine, Faculty Member, High Tech High Graduate School of Education

Listen to Dr. Sarah Fine & Dr. Jal Mehta talk about learning loss in the EdSpark21 podcast:


At the heart of our response to learning loss, must be a commitment to system transformation—a reimagined system that delivers equitable, deeper learning outcomes for every student.

Here are four bold moves your system can make in response to learning loss:




School systems across the country are engaging their communities to develop a Portrait of a Graduate—a collective vision that serves as the North Star for system transformation.

Transformation begins with leaders engaging their communities in conversation around these questions:

  • What are the hopes, dreams, and aspirations that your community has for every student?
  • What are the skills and mindsets that students need to thrive in our ever-changing world?
  • What are the implications for learning and equitable structures and practices in your school system?

Watch these education leaders share the benefits of having a Portrait of a Graduate:


Searching for ways to unify your system and your community to create a shared vision? Read A Shared Aspiration for All Students to learn more about a locally developed Portrait of a Graduate.

Read about how school systems are reimaging their systems and building hope for the future: Building Hope for the Future of Public Education.

Ready to get started on a renewed vision? Learn more about how to engage your community in a locally developed Portrait of a Graduate or contact us.




Anchored in the locally developed Portrait of a Graduate, a strategic plan that activates and aligns every component of the system is essential to ensuring the vision of deeper, 21st century learning becomes a reality for every student.

Learn more about aligning the educational system.

Making deeper learning a reality for all students requires more than just providing equal access to these 21st century learning experiences. It requires a complete transformation of the system. Learn how a systems approach is essential for ensuring every student is engaged in 21st century learning experiences: The Intersection of Equity and 21st Century Learning.

Ready to get started on a new strategic plan? Learn more or contact us.




While we respond to gaps in learning loss, we must also ensure we’re nurturing overall student well-being. This means listening to students.

Hope, engagement, and belonging are foundational for success in any student learning experiences—and life. When educators have tools to help them listen and respond to student voice, they can make a powerful impact. Now, more than ever, is the time to equip educators to foster hope, engagement, and belonging in 21st century learning experiences.

Learn more about the research around the power of hope, engagement, and belonging and how educators can intentionally cultivate these powerful mindsets and skills.

Watch the Are They Okay? Let’s Ask Them! webinar.

Read one district’s story about cultivating these student mindsets, anchored in their Portrait of a Graduate: Today, We Start With Hope.

Ready to elevate student voice? Learn more or contact us.






Historically, state-level assessments have been developed around what is easy to measure, not necessarily what matters most to support students’ long-term success. Assessing learning loss through standardized academic tests alone is insufficient. Educators must be equipped with skills to effectively diagnose gaps in rigorous academic content and 21st century skills and mindsets.

Read more about Shaping Accountability for the 21st Century.

As school systems embrace new ways of preparing the whole child, more complex, comprehensive models of assessment are needed to measure progress around this changing definition of success.

When educators are provided with practical and relevant professional learning focused on understanding 21st century competencies and designing assessments of deeper learning, they are better equipped to respond to the unique needs of today’s learners.

Read about Shining a Light on 4 Big Assessment Ideas and learn about one district’s assessment transformation by watching the Rethink & Redesign Measures of Deeper Learning webinar.

Learn more about professional learning that equips educators to assess 21st century deeper learning.

“If we focus on high level tasks, where assessment is the foundation for the process for learning, I truly believe it doesn’t matter what assessment structure you put in front of students, they’re going to perform well.”
– Steve Holmes, Superintendent, Sunnyside Unified School District, AZ


Our country’s future rests on the promise that all students are equipped to thrive and lead our nation into a better future. Conversations with students, educators, and community members must focus on what matters most for future readiness.

Watch this webinar to hear these education leaders reclaim the conversation about closing learning gaps that matter:

Steve Holmes, Superintendent, Sunnyside Unified School District, AZ   
Mike McCormick, Superintendent, Val Verde Unified School District, CA  
Ruth Zitnik, Superintendent, Maysville Local Schools, OH
Karen Garza, CEO & President, Battelle for Kids  

“We’re all learning into this. It takes time. We also have to be vulnerable and recognize that we don’t have a perfect system and we’re all committed to making it better.”
– Ruth Zitnik, Superintendent, Maysville Local Schools, OH


Now is the time for education leaders to engage in critical conversations about the current state of the education system. These conversations serve as an important springboard to transformation, anchored in a renewed vision—one that makes 21st century learning a reality for every student.

Start a conversation in your district about making 21st century education a reality for every student with  this action guide.  


As a national not-for-profit, we support school systems in their response to learning loss. Our team of experienced educators are passionate, dedicated, and are ready to help.


Ready for system transformation? Read this blog: Dream! Don’t Fix!

Feeling overwhelmed by fragmented initiatives? Read this blog: Sorry, I Have Too Much Going On!

Let's Connect! Contact us today to learn how we can help.
“Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections. We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.”
– Margaret J. Wheatley