Catching up on pandemic-related learning gaps: Position of the Standing Scientific Commission of the KMK

June 11th, 2021

The Standing Scientific Commission of the KMK (StäwiKo), chaired by Olaf Köller, Managing Scientific Director of the IPN, and Felicitas Thiel, Professor at the Freie Universität Berlin, today published its statement on the topic of pandemic-related learning gaps. The recommendations are: focus on, combine and evaluate support measures.

Statement (german)

The statement in brief:

Pandemic-related lockdowns have resulted in reduced learning time in all 16 states. National and international studies indicate considerable resulting learning lags and psycho-social disruptions in some cases. Particularly affected are children and adolescents from disadvantaged families, who already showed significant learning deficits before the pandemic. Learning deficits in basic skills in particular are likely to accumulate over the course of education and jeopardize meaningful follow-up learning. The Standing Scientific Commission therefore welcomes the provision of funds within the Corona Catch-Up Package. However, these funds will not be sufficient to compensate for all learning gaps in the coming years. For the upcoming 2021/22 school year, the commission therefore advocates focusing the funds on

- groups of learners who have special support needs,

- phases in the educational process that are particularly critical for follow-up learning,

- areas that are indispensable for a successful educational career.

The success of the measures to be developed in the coming weeks and months depends not only on the use of tested diagnostic and support materials, but also on the basic qualification of the staff involved in supplementary and extracurricular support measures and on systematic monitoring and evaluation of the measures.

The Commission views the Corona Catch-up package as a prelude to the development of a longer-term overall strategy to reduce significant learning gaps.

Specifically, the Standing Scientific Commission recommends:

1. Concentration of resources on particularly affected groups of children and adolescents.

Low-achieving children and adolescents, who are often concentrated in socio-spatial contexts with a low quality of stimulation and who have no or only little family learning support to fall back on, presumably show particularly large learning delays and are particularly affected by psycho-social stress. There is also an increased need for support among children and adolescents with special educational needs and learners who are at increased risk for truancy. These groups of children and adolescents must therefore be given priority support.

Schools with special resource needs can be identified on the basis of social indices, data from official school statistics and data from comparative studies. Data on the composition of the groups (family origin characteristics) and - if available - data from preschool language assessments can be used for the daycare centers.

2. Special support at transitions and shaping of connections.

Because transitions are particularly sensitive phases and educational decisions at these junctures of individual educational biographies are linked to the creation of new life opportunities, support measures should especially focus on the following phases:

- Transition from daycare to elementary school

- Transition from elementary school to lower secondary school

- Transition from lower secondary school to upper secondary school

- Transition system in the vocational training sector.

There is also a particular need for counseling for students whose follow-up options are still open and for those who have not graduated.

3. Focus on basic linguistic and mathematical competencies instead of catching up with the curriculum.

Basic language and math skills are central to continued learning in all subjects. Three approaches to their concentrated support are recommended:

- An increase in the amount of time spent with German and mathematics by one hour/week each in elementary school and - in the case of significant learning deficits - the use of pool hours for German and mathematics in lower secondary school.

- Focusing instruction in German and mathematics on the areas of competence that are crucial for cumulative learning.

- Supplementary and extracurricular activities to promote basic skills that are well integrated with classroom instruction.

In the preschool area, support measures developed in the so-called “Sprach-Kitas” can be used.

Since underachievement is often accompanied by psychosocial impairments, the promotion of basic skills should be combined with psychosocial support measures.

4. Targeted qualification and supervision of additional pedagogical staff for support

Additional personnel recruited for supplementary instructional and extracurricular measures must be qualified with regard to

- subject didactic basics and subject didactic competence models,

- practical use of diagnostic and support tools, and

- support of self-regulation, social-emotional support and motivation. The Commission recommends prompt development of a digital qualification offer - if necessary in cooperation of several states - on the basis of the relevant subject didactic and psychological framework models and tested diagnostic and support materials.

5. Monitoring and evaluating the measures implemented

Improving the data on pandemic-related learning gaps is essential to target measures in the medium and long term. National and international large-scale assessments can be used for this purpose. In addition, the supplementary instructional support measures in particular should be evaluated, to make substantiated decisions about their permanent implementation.

Evaluation of the measures and their effects should be anchored at all levels (learners, classes, schools, overall system). Schools should primarily use tests that can identify support needs in the lower achievement range. Learning assessments can be used at all levels. It is therefore strongly recommended that comparative tests (VERA 3 and 8) in German, mathematics and the first foreign language (Vera 8) be made mandatory in spring 2022.

Members of the Standing Scientific Commission of the KMK (StäwiKo)


Prof. Dr. Olaf Köller (IPN - Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education)

Prof. Dr. Felicitas Thiel (Free University of Berlin)

Prof. Dr. Isabell van Ackeren (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Prof. Dr. Yvonne Anders (University of Bamberg)

Prof. Dr. Michael Becker-Mrotzek (Mercator Institute for Language Support and German as a Second Language, University of Cologne)

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Cress (IWM - Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media; Eberhard Karls University Tübingen)

Prof. Dr. Claudia Diehl (University of Konstanz)

Prof. Dr. Thilo Kleickmann (Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel)

Prof. Dr. Kai Maaz (DIPF - Leibniz Institute for Human Development and Information)

Prof. Dr. Doris Lewalter (Technical University of Munich)

Prof. Dr. Birgit Lütje-Klose (University of Bielefeld)

Prof. Dr. Harm Kuper (FU Berlin)

Prof. Dr. Susanne Prediger (IPN and Technical University Dortmund)

Prof. Dr. Susan Seeber (Georg-August-University Göttingen)

Prof. Dr. Petra Stanat (Humboldt University Berlin)

Prof. Dr. Birgit Ziegler (Darmstadt University of Technology)