COVID-19 Learning Loss

New Research: Grade Readiness at Start of School Year Was More Impactful Than Being In School or Remote During Pandemic

Curriculum Associates Study of iReady Data Highlights Importance of Grade-Level Readiness for Student Growth

Whether students were prepared for grade-level learning mattered more to their progress over the course of the pandemic than whether they were remote or in school, according to new research released today by Curriculum Associates.

The report, “Student Growth during COVID-19: Grade-Level Readiness Matters,” analyzes data gathered from Curriculum Associates’ i-Ready reading and math assessment tool from over 2 million students in grades 1–8 who used i-Ready Diagnostics during the last three school years.

A growing number of reports from both U.S. and global education researchers have documented learning loss among K–12 students during COVID-19 school disruptions; today’s report from Curriculum Associates is the first to differentiate drops in student achievement between students learning at home versus students who were in person at school.

CA researchers followed the same students, examining achievement progression over time from the 2019–2020 school year before the pandemic hit through the 2020–2021 school year, incorporating their self-reported testing location during the pandemic, CA said.

“After several reports exploring the extent of unfinished learning, we find that remote versus in-school did not matter much in impacting student scores,” said Dr. Kristen Huff, vice president of assessment and research at Curriculum Associates. “Though there were slight differences in student growth based on location, what mattered most was where students started in the first place — that is, whether they were already behind or prepared for grade-level work at the beginning of the school year.”

The main research question for this study, CA said, was: “What were the differences in overall growth between students who reported being in school compared to students who reported being remote during the 2020–2021 school year, as well as compared to historical averages?”

Key Findings of the Research

  • Remote versus in-school location alone did not matter a great deal in impacting student scores.
  • There was little difference in growth between students who reported all or mostly in-school testing during COVID-19 compared to those who were remote only or mostly remote, although the differences in math were generally larger than reading.
  • Of the variables investigated, whether students started the school year prepared or underprepared for grade-level work was the most significant factor affecting growth during the pandemic.
  • Students who came in underprepared for grade-level work struggled the most to keep up and catch up during COVID-19 disruptions, regardless of testing location, poverty level, student body demographics, or school location.
  • Although students in urban, high-poverty schools with more Black and Latino students showed growth, which is worth celebrating, that growth still lagged behind what we would expect given historical pre-COVID-19 trends.

“We believe this insight should be a call to other researchers who have access to student-level data to look at similar factors,” said Huff. “Through everyone’s unique contributions, the research community can weave together an understanding of the true impact of 2020 and 2021 on student learning and education. With that knowledge, we can move forward in recovery and in preparing for and handling future disruptions to minimize unfinished learning and impact on students.”

CA’s research shows that students who started two or more grade levels below where they should be saw the least, or close to the least, amount of growth across reading and mathematics, the report said. “During a typical school year, it is not unexpected that the kids furthest behind gain the most because they usually are getting extra support as they have the most ground to make up to get to a proficient level. What is especially troubling, then, is that because these already struggling students are not gaining at the usual rate (i.e., as the pre-COVID-19 cohort), they are falling even further behind. While all students struggled to some extent, or at least struggled to make up losses from the initial loss of schooling in spring 2020, the students who could least afford to fall further behind appear to have done just that.”

The report includes demographics-specific information on assessment results for various grades in both reading and mathematics, revealing precisely which student groups were the most negatively impacted by pandemic disruptions. “Getting these students back on track will require a dramatic increase in the rate of their learning growth, beyond even what is ‘expected,’ as even matching historical growth for these students means they will never have a chance to get to where they deserve to be,” the report said in summary.

View and download the full report at Curriculum Associates’ website.

Today’s report is part of a series of research reports by Curriculum Associates on the impact of the pandemic on student learning. Learn more about their research at

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].