- In one of the first nationwide looks at the impact of COVID-19 on learning loss, an initial analysis of NWEA MAP Growth assessments shows most students made some gains compared to fall 2019, but students didn't make as much progress in math and scored about the same in reading. Nearly 4.4 million students in grades 3-8 nationwide took the annual assessments this fall, some of them remotely.
- Students scored between 5 and 10 percentile points lower than average in math in fall 2020 compared to their peers in the same grades last fall. A smaller number of learners showed growth in math, while close to a third regressed in the subject — almost double the number in a normal year.
- While overall reading scores were similar to scores prior to COVID-19 school closures, small declines were disproportionately concentrated among Hispanic and Black students in upper elementary grades. Researchers note, however, that it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions on differences by racial/ethnic groups from the results, as student groups particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic have a higher likelihood of not being represented in the data.
The initial results paint a picture that isn't as bleak as earlier projections that estimated significant learning loss in math, and reading scores trailing not far behind. Math results fell in between projections of what scores would look like in a typical year and where students were projected to be assuming they received half of their normal instruction in the spring. Reading scores aligned with a typical school year.
"Kids are advancing, they’re just not advancing as fast as they were in person, in math specifically," said Chris Minnich, CEO of NWEA.
However, researchers say the picture is still incomplete, because almost one in four students did not show up to test as they did in 2019. Those students are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, and missing at higher rates than previous years.
"Given that we’ve seen district reports of higher absenteeism, I think this is something to be really concerned about," said Megan Kuhfeld, senior research scientist at NWEA’s Collaborative for Student Growth, who contributed to the research.
Minnich and researchers who authored the study caution against not taking these students into account, saying underestimating the achievement gap could potentially result in under-providing for the students who need support the most.
"When we do get back in buildings, those students may or may not show up again. How do we make sure that we’re paying attention to that and not making funding decisions based on that?" Minnich said. "If we made a change in the way we’re funding [based on students not showing up], you would end up in a situation where schools wouldn’t be able to respond when those students do return to school. We need to be cautious about how we’re thinking about enrollment in this period of time."
The low scores in math could be largely due to how schools advance students in the subject, Minnich said, which relies on sequential teaching, whereas reading does not. “Is this a moment to think differently about how do we catch kids up, how do we think about unfinished learning?” he said.
The researchers said they are more confident in the released results for grades 3-8, but that they are seeing "alarming" course failure results in the higher grades and more significant impacts on students in K-2. That data has not yet been released.