Equity Issues in K–12

Report: The Pandemic 'Grossly Exacerbated' Disparities in Education

A new report noted that students on the whole did make gains during the 2020–2021 school year. However, those gains were lower than seen in previous years. Underrepresented groups and students in high-poverty areas were disproportionately impacted negatively by the public policy response to the pandemic.

The report, Learning during COVID-19: Reading and math achievement in the 2020-2021 school year, from the non-profit NWEA, used data from it's MAP Growth assessments from 5.5 million students in grades 3–8 in spring 2020 and fall 2021. It found that, while growth was lower for all student groups, "historically underserved students (e.g., American Indian and Alaskan Native, Black, and Latino and/or students in high poverty schools) were disproportionately impacted, particularly in the elementary grades that NWEA studied."

"As our nation continues to grapple with COVID-19 and its impact on every facet of our lives, this new research from NWEA illuminates just how devastating the academic consequences have been for our nation's children. While all students have suffered from interrupted instruction, students of color and students from low-income families — who are more likely to receive virtual instruction but less likely to have access to sufficient broadband and devices necessary to access virtual learning — have borne the brunt of the pandemic's academic burden. It is vital that policymakers, school leaders, and educators act on this crucial research to ensure that students who need the most support receive it," said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, in a prepared statement released to coincide with the report.

Overall achievement was also lower than historical averages, according to the report — three to six percentage points lower in reading and eight to 12 points in math.

The report's authors and others noted that we are now in a time where it is possible, from both a policy and funding standpoint, to go beyond earlier reform efforts to completely reimagine the old industrial model of formal education. A separate policy paper from NWEA details several policy recommendations, including "investing in school counselors and nurses to address mental health and social-emotional well-being of students, tutoring and extending instructional time, professional development geared at meeting the needs of diverse learners and redesigning state accountability systems to better align with recovery plans."

"The data sets from the NWEA study confirm the profound impact COVID-19 had on families and students. They also highlight the stark inequities that existed before March 13, 2020 — the pandemic grossly exacerbated the disparities we see in the education sector," said Dr. Michael Conner, Superintendent of Middletown Public Schools in Middletown, CT, in a statement released to coincide with the report's release. "However, the data sets also call for the holistic redesign and transformation of an operating model that can finally ground the principles of innovation, creativity, and equity in every fabric of our schools. At this juncture, we have permission to be bold, creative, innovative, and experimentative for acceleration and recovery. There has not been a time in our industry where we can reimagine the traditional industrial model that historically marginalized students. This is the opportunity where systemic change in the context of policy, investments, and organizational practice can shift the trajectory of every student we encounter."

The complete report and additional resources can be found on NWEA's site.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrnagel/ .