Policy & Research

Almost Half of Public School Students Started the Academic Year Behind

Most schools are using various forms of tutoring as part of their learning recovery strategies, in addition to formative assessments, remediation, and individualized instruction.

The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the United States Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, released new data today revealing that nearly half of all public school students started the school year at least one grade level behind in at least one academic subject.

According to the data, 49% of students started the current academic year behind in one subject. Among schools reporting this, almost all indicated at least some students were behind in math or English language arts. The data were released as part of the NCES School Pulse Panel, with data collected over two weeks in December involving 1,026 public schools.

"Many students were behind grade level at the start of the current academic year, including in core academic subjects like English and mathematics," said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr in a prepared statement. "Both this school year and last school year, public school leaders estimated that about half of their students began the school year behind grade level in at least one academic subject. These data suggest that academic recovery will take time. Additional data show that public schools are employing a combination of learning recovery strategies to help students get back on track."

According to NCES, "Public schools have implemented a wide variety of learning recovery strategies as of December 2022, when the data were collected. Most public schools have relied on diagnostic (88%) and formative (85%) assessment data to identify individual students' academic needs, and 81% of public schools have used remedial instruction techniques (i.e., using content from prior years to teach concepts or skills). Over half (59%) of public schools have used tailored accelerated instruction (i.e., teacher-led individualized learning using new, grade-level content to teach prior-grade concepts or skills)."

Schools are also overwhelmingly (83%) employing tutoring, with 37% offering high-dosage tutoring, standard tutoring (59%), and self-paced tutoring (22%), in an effort to help students catch up.

Further data from the School Pulse Panel can be found at ies.ed.gov/schoolsurvey.

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/ .