The researchers say the results were worse in areas of high poverty and could have been even worse overall if thousands of “missing” students from school systems had been counted. Separately, they say it would take “unprecedented” levels of growth to catch up with the past school year.
NWEA, a Portland-Oregon-based education research organization that develops pre-K-12 assessments, has accelerated research into 2020-21 school year test scores to help shed light on student needs. before fall.
The researchers compared the achievement gains of students in Grades 3 to 8 over the school year to pre-pandemic levels – specifically, the 2018-19 school year – based on the average scores of their assessments. MAP Growth in reading and mathematics.
They found that, looking at the results of 5.5 million applicants, students made modest progress overall during the school year – but not as much as during a typical year. Compared to 2018-2019, average performance gains decreased by 3 to 6 percentile points in reading depending on grade level. There was an even steeper drop in math, between 8 and 12 percentile points.
Unexpectedly, gains in math and reading slowed between winter and spring compared to a typical school year, the researchers found.
“I think a lot of us might have expected to see signs of hope as spring approaches, when more kids return to class,” Karyn Lewis, senior researcher at the NWEA. “So that’s when the learning really stalled me most surprised. “
Lewis pointed out that “pandemic fatigue” may have been the source of the unintended results.
“When I think back and reflect on my own experiences in winter, I think that’s when pandemic fatigue really started to set in,” she said. “I think it’s starting to show in this data that children have also been affected. “
When they delved into the data, the researchers found that there were even larger declines in math and reading progress for underprivileged students. Those attending high poverty schools showed more than double the declines in students attending low poverty schools for many grades. This was particularly pronounced at the elementary level: Third-graders in high-poverty schools showed drops of 11 percentile points in reading and 17 percentile points in math, according to the report.
“We know that the pandemic has not been a uniform crisis for all families across our country, and families living in extreme poverty have been affected in different ways,” said Lewis. “Parents were less likely to be able to stay home and support virtual learning opportunities because of the way their jobs were structured. These households may have had less reliable Internet access or less reliable access to a dedicated computer. … It’s just a layer upon layer of different factors that I think are probably attributable to this. “
Recent results don’t show the full picture, Lewis said, due to a higher than normal attrition rate – and the so-called “missing” students are likely on top of the lower performing students. The overall attrition rate for the 2020-21 school year was around 20%, according to the researchers, meaning one in five students who tested the previous year did not test this year. For 2018-2019, the overall attrition rate was 13%.
“Children who have disappeared are not part of the random sample of students, but are more likely to be in schools that have a high proportion of children living in poverty, who performed less well in previous years and who came from communities of color, ”Lewis said. “This might actually be the best case scenario, as we miss the voices of many of the students in those groups who have been most affected. “
The researchers also pointed out that their work did not specifically address the impact of distance learning on performance.
“This national data is fantastic for giving us the setup of the vast landscape, but we really need the districts and schools to come back to look at the local context and look at our own data and see how that compares to the trends that we are. see nationwide, ”Brooke Mabry, strategic content design manager for the NWEA’s professional learning design team, told ABC News.
With students entering fall with, on average, lower gains in math and reading, it would take “unprecedented” levels of growth to catch up, Lewis said. The delta variant could also launch a “big curve” for schools this fall, as COVID-19 cases increase across the country. But there are signs of hope, the researchers said.
“We know that what we learned from what happened with the children in the summer months, when they are completely out of school, the children who seem to lose the most in the summer time are also the ones which tend to bounce back the fastest when they ‘get back to class,’ Lewis said. “I think there is some hope here that the children are sponges and that they are ready to learn. “