After Campus Closures, More Students Began School Year Below Grade Level
- By Dian Schaffhauser
analysis of early assessment data found that between a quarter and a
third of students began the 2020-2021 school year unprepared for
on-grade level instruction in reading and math (28 percent and 29
percent, respectively). And compared with the historical average of
the previous three school years, more students began the latest
school year behind grade level, especially in math. Yet, in reading,
students were doing better in fall 2020 than the previous average in
certain grade levels, including those from Black, Indigenous and
People of color (BIPOC) and lower-income families.
results were developed by Curriculum
an education technology company that produces instructional materials
and assessments, and shared in a recent research brief. Each fall K-8
students in schools using the company's i-Ready
instructional tools take assessments in reading and math to help
teachers personalize the learning pathways for each child.
Student Needs: Early Results from Fall Assessments"
used the company's earliest available fall 2020 i-Ready Diagnostic
scores to examine four questions, all tied to whether students were
placing below grade level compared to previous school years:
each scenario, "below grade level" actually meant "below
two or more grade levels."
while 27 percent of students placed below grade level in reading on
the fall diagnostic for 2017–2018, 2018– 2019 and 2019–2020--the
"historic" school years--in fall 2020, the total was 28
percent. For math, the historic share was 23 percent, while it was 29
percent for this school year.
drilldown of the data by grade level found that a smaller share of
students performed below grade level in grades 5, 6, 7 and 8 after
campus closures compared to the historical count. The proportion of
students reading below grade level dropped by one percentage point
for students in grades 5-7 and by two percentage points for students
in grade 8. However, the share of students in grades 2 and 3 reading
below grade level grew by six and five percentage points,
math the news showed no promising signs. Every grade saw an increase
in the percentage of students who placed below grade level. The
change was highest for students in grades 2 and 3, which saw a rise
of 10 percentage points and nine percentage points, respectively, for
those placing below grade level.
the race and ethnicity analysis found was that in grade 3, where
performance is highly predictive of high school outcomes, in schools
with higher proportions of BIPOC students (more than 50 percent of
the population), historic trends continued: Larger percentages of
students began the school year below grade level in reading, and that
was no different for fall 2020. In fact, the share grew, from 34
percent to 41 percent. For math, it was the same. Schools with a
higher proportion of BIPOC students saw the number of students
starting school below grade level increase more dramatically (by 12
percentage points, rising from 32 percent to 44 percent) than schools
with fewer BIPOC students.
with a greater proportion of low-income households (those earning
less than $50,000) saw similar trends. Historically, schools in
lower-income zip codes have seen more students start the school year
below grade level than schools in higher-income zip codes. In that
pivotal grade 3, overall, the percentage of students placing below
grade-level in reading increased by a greater amount in lower-income
schools (by five percentage points) versus higher-income schools
(three percentage points). For math, the story was the same; there
while 39 percent of third-graders in lower-income schools (a
10-percentage point increase) placed below grade level, 25 percent
did for higher-income schools (a six-point rise).
Associates suggested that more research was needed to understood the
"disproportionate impact" of remote learning on students,
especially those in BIPOC populations or attending schools in
low-income zip codes.
shift to remote learning has magnified already pervasive inequities
for millions of school children," said Kristen Huff, the
company's vice president of assessment and research, in a statement.
"But it has also created an opportunity to explore a range of
important research questions. COVID-19 has had far-reaching--and in
many ways poorly understood--implications for our students. This
analysis takes an important first step toward making sense of
outcomes in an unprecedented environment and charting a path
report, with more complete results, is openly available on
the Curriculum Associates website.
company has also released an additional report, "Overcoming
the Digital Divide,"
to share what it has learned from "exemplar" schools that
were beating the odds.