Across three large school districts in metro-Atlanta, robust analyses show the reductions in learning gains due to the pandemic have been uneven.
The average slowdown in achievement growth ranged from none to as high as seven months of learning across the districts for eighth grade math and 7.5 months for seventh grade reading across the three districts.
The study also highlights pandemic-induced changes in learning gains for different student subgroups, which compound disparities that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, math achievement growth for students eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals—a crude measure of poverty—was substantially lower than for ineligible students, with a disparity of up to 3.2 months of learning in sixth grade in one district (more than a third of a typical 9.5-month school year).
On average, elementary students who returned to in-person instruction during fall 2020 experienced at least one-third greater learning growth than their peers who continued to learn remotely, according to the groundbreaking report by economist Tim Sass, the MAPLE faculty director who led the research.
Sass is a faculty member hired under the Next Generation Program’s predecessor, the Second Century Initiative.
The study is one of just a few independent, multi-district studies to estimate the pandemic’s impact on student achievement in the United States.
“The results clearly show the pandemic has had significant negative effects on students’ lives, including their academic achievement, with some students being more severely affected than others,” Sass said. “The good news is that our district partners are actively using these results and recommendations to inform long-term response plans.”
The MAPLE report recommends school districts use federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to implement targeted, evidence-based solutions such as providing high-intensity, small-group tutoring, extending school days during the academic year and offering academic support programs during the summer and other school breaks along with strong incentives to participate.
Funding for the research was provided by a grant from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta (CFGA).
“We appreciate the detailed research MAPLE has conducted to understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on learning,” said Lauren Thomas Priest, a CFGA program associate. “The Community Foundation aims to serve our community by addressing the most challenging issues of our time, including the equitable education of our children. As the community works to understand the full scope of these reductions in learning gains and their long-term impact, we can work together to pursue funding across multiple entities, including philanthropy, and implement the recommended solutions,” she added.
Download the report, Student Achievement Growth During the COVID-19 Pandemic, at https://gpl.gsu.edu/publications/student-achievement-growth-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/.