- In another round of disappointing test results, students in grades 1-2 showed lower reading and math achievement in spring 2022 compared to pre-pandemic trends. Reading scores fell 6 to 7 percentile points behind spring 2019 results, while math scores dropped 3 to 8 percentile points, according to newly released NWEA MAP Growth assessment results and analysis.
- For 1st grade students — who have only attended school during the COVID-19 years — 2021-22 assessment results showed 6% to 7% lower growth across their 1st grade year. Students in grades 2-5, on the other hand, had assessment results in 2021-22 that mostly paralleled those in the 2018-19 school year, the NWEA report said.
- By honing in on children in the earliest grades, researchers found the pandemic didn't just impact children whose normal school routines got disrupted. The results emphasize the need for targeted investments in early literacy and math programs to help the youngest students gain essential academic skills, according to NWEA, a nonprofit that provides assessments.
The NWEA findings echo recommendations elsewhere that urge educators and parents to avoid the mindset that children in the early grades will "catch up" coming out of COVID. Instead, individualized supports and broader investments in foundational reading and math skills for preschool and early elementary students should be priorities, experts say.
"There's no good time to have two years of school disrupted, but I do think those kids that were making a transition to a new school level at that time probably had it tougher than others," said Megan Kuhfeld, co-author of the report and a senior research scientist for the Collaborative for Student Growth at NWEA.
Kuhfeld added that while there's some academic performance data for these youngest students, it's harder to find data on behavioral and social-emotional trends. "I think that it's just important to keep that in mind that these achievement trends that we're seeing may actually also reflect some deeper issues just around transition to school," she added.
NWEA's research also found students in the early elementary grades who identify as Asian American and White had smaller differences in achievement compared to Hispanic, Black, and American Indian and Alaska Native students. For example, 1st grade White students fell 4 percentile ranks in reading from 2019 to 2022, compared to a drop of 8 percentile ranks for Black and Hispanic youngsters.
To analyze test result trends for early elementary students, NWEA reviewed data from 1.6 million students in grades 1-2 who took MAP Growth assessments, administered by NWEA, in reading and math in about 11,000 public schools in 2021-22. That data was compared to about the same size sample of students from 2018-19.
A February report from Amplify, a curriculum and assessment company that administers the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills assessment, or DIBELS, found lower percentages of readiness for core instruction in early literacy skills for kindergartners and 1st graders from 2021-22 mid-school year assessments compared to kindergarten and 1st grade students in 2019-20.
Older students also showed drops in reading and math achievement compared to pre-pandemic performances, as reflected on several state assessments and on the 4th and 8th grade 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress. While all racial subgroups saw declines on NAEP compared to 2019 results, Black and Hispanic students' scores started at lower levels so they dropped the furthest over the two testing periods.
In a U.S. Government Accountability Office survey of teachers reflecting on the 2020-21 school year, K-2 teachers said their students started the first semester a year behind academically. These teachers also said their students had more difficulty using technology for learning purposes, compared to those in upper grades.
In addition, the early grade teachers told GAO researchers their students benefited from more personalized attention, such as working in small groups, and that movement breaks were helpful.