The COVID-19 pandemic has led to substantial reductions in student learning in metro-Atlanta public elementary and middle schools. What’s more, these impacts have grown over time, according to our new research.
By winter of 2020-21, we found that average math achievement within a grade was up to seven months behind where students likely would have been had the pandemic not occurred. In reading, students were up to 7 ½ months behind on average in some grades.
Students often fell further behind between the fall and winter tests, sometimes dramatically so. The effects of the pandemic varied by subject, grade and school district, complicating how districts can determine their responses to this unprecedented disruption to formal education.
For example, students eligible for free or reduced-price meals – a crude measure of poverty – generally experienced slower achievement growth during the pandemic than did ineligible students. Similarly, traditionally marginalized student groups, including Black students, Hispanic students and English learners, generally experienced larger reductions in achievement growth.
We wanted to understand whether the return to in-person learning would reduce the harmful effects of the pandemic. Elementary school students who returned to in-person instruction in the fall of 2020-21 experienced greater achievement growth per instructional day than students who continued to learn remotely, but their growth was still less than for comparable students before the pandemic. This could be due to student difficulty in transitioning back to in-person learning, emotional trauma or other effects of the pandemic. Alternatively, increased disparities in student achievement could make teaching more difficult. For middle school students, differences in the rate of learning between in-person and remote instruction were modest.