Findings on learning loss point to next steps for district spending to address academic recovery
In the most comprehensive study of the impact of remote instruction during the pandemic, researchers examined testing data from 2.1 million students, between third and eighth grade, in nearly ten thousand schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia. School districts which remained remote for much of 2020-21 experienced the largest declines and will need to pivot quickly to avoid permanent losses in student achievement.
The paper showed that high poverty schools not only spent more weeks in remote instruction during 2020-21, but their students suffered larger losses in academic achievement when they did so.
Researchers from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University (CEPR), CALDER Center at the American Institutes for Research, NWEA, and Dartmouth College found that within school districts that were remote for most of 2020-21, high-poverty schools lost a half-year of achievement growth, roughly twice as much as low-poverty schools in the same districts.
"When districts shifted to remote instruction, students in high-poverty schools were most negatively impacted,” said Thomas J. Kane, CEPR faculty director. “School districts urgently need to reassess their plans and ensure that the scale of their catch-up efforts matches the magnitude of their students’ losses. If they don’t, we will see the largest widening in educational inequity in a generation.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, school districts received $190 billion in federal aid to cope with COVID-19 issues. Such aid may be sufficient in districts which remained in-person during 2020-21. However, high-poverty districts that remained in remote instruction for much of 2020-21 would need to spend nearly all their ARP funding just to address academic recovery. The American Rescue Plan, passed before the scale of the losses were clear, only requires districts to spend 20 percent on academic recovery.
The researchers used achievement data from NWEA, a not-for-profit, research and educational services provider serving K-12 students. They compared achievement growth during the pandemic, from autumn 2019 through autumn 2021, to achievement growth during the two years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The research group is currently working with a number of public school districts around the country to measure the efficacy of COVID catch-up efforts, such as tutoring, summer school and extra periods of math and English instruction. The group of researchers will be sharing what they are learning in future reports.
“The findings in this paper show that how districts responded to the pandemic had a powerful impact on student achievement. What districts do going forward with the unprecedented federal resources they have will go a long way toward determining how successful we are as a nation at helping students recover from the dramatic effects of the pandemic,” said Dan Goldhaber, Director, CALDER at the American Institutes for Research.
The full report is available at cepr.harvard.edu/road-to-covid-recovery. Its authors are Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington, Thomas J. Kane and Tyler Patterson of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, Andrew McEachin and Emily Morton of NWEA, and Douglas Staiger of Dartmouth College.
About the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University
The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, seeks to transform education through quality research and evidence. CEPR and its partners believe all students will learn and thrive when education leaders make decisions using facts and findings, rather than untested assumptions. Learn more at cepr.harvard.edu.
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