COVID-19

Research: Coronavirus Learning Loss Could Put Some Students Behind a Full Year

Research from the NWEA has projected that current school closures could, indeed, result in major declines in student learning. The preliminary estimates found that math would take a bigger hit than reading, and that some students could return in the fall with less than 50 percent of the typical learning gains. In some grades the decline could put them a "full year behind" what would be expected under normal conditions. NWEA is a nonprofit that creates the MAP series of assessment programs, including MAP Growth.

To develop their findings, NWEA researchers Megan Kuhfeld and Beth Tarasawa used previous studies that examined summer learning loss (also known as "summer slide"), based on a national sample of more than five million students in grades 3-8 who took MAP Growth assessments.

Research: Coronavirus Learning Loss Could Put Some Students Behind a Full Year

Impact on math learning outcomes due to coronavirus-forced school closures.Source: "The COVID-19 slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about thepotential impact of school closures on student academic achievement," from NWEA

They compared three trajectories of academic achievement during a typical school year for students in those same grades for reading and math. The first trajectory, designated with a solid line, showed no disruption to learning. The second one (the dashed line) showed the "COVID-19 slowdown," in which students maintained the same level of academic gain they had at the moment when schools were closed. And the third (the dotted line) showed the "COVID-19 slide," in which students exhibited patterns of learning loss typical of summers throughout an extended closure. The forecast used March 15, 2020 as the starting point for school closures and the fall start of school as the end point.

The COVID slide estimate, which showed the direst projections, suggested that students would return in fall 2020 with about 70 percent of the learning gains they've already achieved in reading. In math, the picture was worse: Students would return with less than half of the learning gains; in some grades, the loss would equate to almost a full year behind what they would have had in normal times.

Research: Coronavirus Learning Loss Could Put Some Students Behind a Full Year

Impact on reading learning outcomes due to coronavirus-forced schoolclosures. Source: "The COVID-19 slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about thepotential impact of school closures on student academic achievement," from NWEA

The report offered some caveats to its forecasting. While the current school closures share some characteristics with summer break, the projections don't take into account the fact that most school systems have put some form of online learning in place, which would counteract the full impact. However, at the same time, many students who come from "historically marginalized" homes face increased prospects of trauma, joblessness, food insecurity and homelessness, which could make their learning outcomes "even bleaker," the researchers noted.

"These preliminary forecasts parallel many education leaders' fears: Missing school for a prolonged period will likely have major impacts on student achievement come fall 2020," the report stated. "The COVID-19 crisis is a call to action for practitioners and policymakers alike. Once schools are back in session, we must be prepared to support students, many of whom will likely be behind academically."

The report provided several recommendations to the education community to address potential learning loss and support educators and families during and after coronavirus.

  • Policymakers and educators need to double up on the support they provide to students on math, even as teaching and learning is being done at a distance. That includes making sure families and students get "access to appropriate, engaging math and reading materials, instruction and support during coronavirus closures." It also requires making sure all students have the access they need to technology and the internet. Once those elements are in place, school leaders need to "address more nuanced instructional challenges like differentiation, accessibility and English language learner needs."

  • Teachers need access to data that will help them steer lessons more accurately in ways that will support their individual students.

  • Researchers, policymakers and schools need to work together to develop "policies and practices for recovery." While the summer slide data can provide a "starting point" for understanding the impact of school closures, the report explained, further research will be needed to identify the "patterns of loss" various types of schools will experience and to develop the policies that will help them recover "in a timely manner."

NWEA is hosting an open webinar on Apr. 22, 2020 to discuss the findings.

The full report, "The COVID-19 slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement," is openly available on the NWEA website.

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