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
report and additional resources can be found on NWEA's site.
About the Author
David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 29-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.
He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEDavidNagel (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).