Sarai Baker

Sarai Baker

Amid COVID-19, students across the world have experienced unique circumstances when it comes to their education.  While parents, teachers and schools had to be quick to adapt to meet students’ needs, some parents might have noticed a decline in their child’s knowledge as they deviated from their normal routines in the classroom.

For some students who have developmental disabilities, being out of routine can stall the progress and maintenance of learned skills. Summers typically mean time off from homework, but for students who have disabilities, summers may mean a regression in their learning.

Students in special education typically have a different classroom structure than traditional learning environments. In addition to academics, some of these students also learn social-emotional skills and behaviors in the classroom, depending on their individualized education plans. 

While not every student has the same needs, some may fall behind during gaps in the traditional school year and experience substantial regression, losing their learned skills when away from the classroom routine, and may struggle to get them back when school resumes in the fall. 

For some, this could mean losing academic skills, like forgetting math equations or vocabulary words, but for others it can mean losing the ability to form sentences or even experiencing an increase in negative behaviors.

When students experience substantial regression, time is taken away from learning new skills when they return to school. Instead, teachers have to backtrack and spend valuable teaching time helping students to relearn these important skills, skills that the student may have already perfected before the school break.

An Extended School Year (ESY) plan may be just what these students need to stay on track with their individual learning style.

ESY, documented in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, allows students who experience significant regression to bridge the gap—literally—and continue maintaining learned skills in summer programs during the time taken for summer break.

Students must qualify for ESY based on data that shows they experience significant regression. This data is collected before and after scheduled school breaks in the fall, spring and summer to see which skills are lost or gained and how long it takes to recover the skill, if at all.

I have spent 10 years at ACCEL, working with students who have disabilities. ACCEL is a nonprofit with a private school serving students who have developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, cognitive disabilities and behavioral disorders.  

In my personal experience working in special ed, I have found that ESY is incredibly important to maintain critical skills that some of our students have struggled to develop. If a student has just started to peak with a skill and then takes two months off for summer break, this may result in regression and the likelihood that we’ll be spending more time re-training them on these learned skills. 

Because ESY takes place during the summer, there is a common misconception that it is just generalized summer school. It’s so much more than that and can really make all the difference for these students. 

While not all students have the ability to attend ESY programs during the summer, there are ways to continue maintaining and improving learned skills at home. The most important part of avoiding regression is being consistent: Continuing to maintain a schedule and the continuity of a routine during school breaks can be extremely helpful. 

As we continue to navigate COVID-19 and plan for the upcoming school year, maintaining some level of normalcy and consistency will be crucial for all students to help keep their learning on track.