COVID-19 Policy Fallout

Learning Loss Hit K–8 Hard from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020

New research has confirmed that students in grades K-8 are experiencing learning loss in math and reading due to COVID-19 disruptions. Researchers at education technology company Illuminate Education compared screening data in its FastBridge Learning assessment and monitoring application from fall 2019 to fall 2020 and found that losses were consistently bigger in math than reading and largest in late elementary and middle school grades.

For the sake of generalizing, the study compared achievement levels, free or reduced lunch rates and percentage of minority students among schools and students who tested in consecutive years to those who didn't test in fall 2020. The team also compared FastBridge results to those reported in other studies to determine whether the evidence was "converging"; and used assessed trends across school type--rural, urban or suburban--school poverty rates and race and ethnicity composition.

According to the findings, the observed learning losses in reading ranged from about one month in primary grades to about three months in late elementary grades. Learning losses in math were generally about one month greater than in reading, ranging from less than one month in kindergarten to about four months in 6th grade.

"We are seeing a pervasive, negative, and universal impact on student learning due to COVID-19 disruptions, especially in math and reading," said John Bielinksi, senior director of research and development at Illuminate, in a statement. To counteract the impact of learning loss, he added, the company is "urging educators to consider spending more time on these high-need areas" and pushing schools to provide teacher support "to make it happen."

Among the recommendations:

  • To continue screening to identify the largest learning gaps and address these through intensified core instruction;

  • To use benchmarks as the goal for all students to reach, while still understanding that "rate of Improvement" is the key metric to focus on when conducting progress monitoring, since many students will start the year "significantly behind typical performance";

  • To spend more time on high-need areas, such as math in grades 2 through 8; and

  • To give teachers extra support to make their remote instruction as effective as possible.

The full report is available with registration on the Illuminate FastBridge website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.