Oct. 31, 2022 – As the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be winding down, the average student is now half a year behind in math skills and a quarter of a year behind in reading skills, a new analysis of standardized test data shows. 

Districts with mostly poor students were impacted even more severely, according to the recently released Education Recovery Scorecard

“When you have a massive crisis, the worst effects end up being felt by the people with the least resources,” Stanford University researcher Sean Reardon, EdD, told The Associated Press.

Reardon, an education professor, did the analysis with Harvard economist Thomas Kane, PhD, by comparing standardized test data known as the “nation’s report card” with state-level test results from 29 states and Washington, DC.

An interesting finding was that school closure – a politically charged topic – was not linked to greater learning losses.

“Achievement losses varied widely among districts that spent the same share of 2020-21 in remote learning,” the study authors explained. “Just as California, a state with long school closures, had losses smaller than Maine (a state with low rates of school closures), many districts which spent much of the year in remote learning had smaller losses than districts which were in person. Moreover, even in districts which were not remote for any of the year, scores in math and reading declined substantially (by one-third and one-fifth of a grade level, on average).”

The researchers highlighted this as an area for future study, saying they plan to investigate “the role of other factors – such as COVID death rates, broadband connectivity, the predominant industries of employment and occupations for parents in the school district – that might be contributing to the disparate impacts of the pandemic.”

companion study said that if students are not able to make up for the learning losses, it may impact their lifetime income as well as their likelihood of being incarcerated or becoming a teen parent.

Compared to historical differences in achievement, improvement was “associated with an 8% rise in income, as well as improved educational attainment and declines in teen motherhood, incarceration and arrest rates,” according to the report, for which Kane was the lead author. “If allowed to become permanent, our findings imply that the recent losses would represent a 1.6% decline in present value of lifetime earnings for the average K-12 student (or $19,400), totaling $900 billion for the 48 million students enrolled in public schools during the 2020-21 school year.”

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SOURCES: 

Education Recovery Scorecard: “Key Findings.”

The Associated Press: “Massive learning setbacks show COVID’s sweeping toll on kids.”

Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research: “What Do Changes in State Test Scores Imply for Later Life Outcomes?”

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