Data is continually emerging on how students are faring academically as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. From the near-universal school closures in March 2020 through widespread disruptions and shifting instructional modes throughout the 2020–21 school year, students’ educational progress has been affected, but researchers continue to study how and how much.
Documenting Learning in the Time of COVID-19
A recent report from Renaissance, developer and provider of Star assessments, suggests that overall, students have made up some ground academically relative to where they started the 2020–21 school year. The study sample of nearly 4 million students included nearly 2.3 million 1st through 8th graders who took the Star Early Literacy or Star Reading assessments and 1.5 million 2nd through 8th graders who took the Star Math assessment. Students in the sample were assessed in fall of 2019, fall of 2020, and winter of the 2020–21 school year (December 2020 through February 2021), and the sample includes study participants from all 50 states and Washington, DC. To study student progress, researchers compare student skills to projections based on assessment data from prior years. They found:
- Students are slightly behind where they would typically be in math and reading, but student growth in the first half of the 2020–21 school year is approaching expected levels in both subjects.
- While COVID-induced achievement setbacks are shrinking in many grades, relative to the beginning of the school year in fall of 2020, they remain large in late elementary and early middle school grades where students are two to three months behind expectations.
- Importantly, some groups of students fell further behind from fall of 2020 to the winter assessments, in particular, Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students, students with disabilities, and English language learners, suggesting that pandemic-related disruptions are exacerbating achievement gaps by race and ethnicity.
When researchers refer to learning losses or setbacks, such as those documented in the Renaissance report, they are not suggesting that students have fallen behind where they were previously, but instead that students have fallen behind where they were expected to be in a typical, non-pandemic-affected school year.
Checking in on President Biden’s 100-Day Priorities
In January, the White House announced a focus on opening a majority of schools serving students in grades K-8 for in-person instruction in the Biden administration’s first 100 days. This Friday marks President Biden’s 100th day in office and many will be checking in on progress towards accomplishing that goal. It is both challenging in practice, since implementation of school policies requires the involvement of many levels of administration working within the requirements established by local (city, county, school board) and state governments as well as federal guidelines, and challenging to measure progress towards the goal because of inconsistent measurement of instructional modes and non-standardized data collection.