Recovery on hold? How academic growth sputtered in 2022-23

Most students now need an additional 4.5 months of mathematics instruction and 4.1 months of reading to make a full academic recovery.

The road to recovery remains rocky as the academic growth that most students made in the 2022-23 school year failed to match pre-pandemic norms, according to data on grades 3-8 released Tuesday. Many students may need to accomplish an extra year of learning in high school, though one bright spot is that students on the younger end of the NWEA’s scale exceeded expectations, the latest report from the influential testing company found.

“COVID-19 may no longer be an emergency, but we are very much still dealing with the fallout from the crisis,” said Karyn Lewis, co-author of the study and director of NWEA’s Center for School and Student Progress. “These data reiterate that recovery will not be linear, easy, or quick and we cannot take our foot off the gas pedal.”

The results show that most children need an additional 4.5 months of math instruction and 4.1 months of reading to catch up to the pre-COVID status quo and that Black and Hispanic students remain even further behind. But as most superintendents and their teams know, that level of additional instruction cannot be provided in a single year and the pre-pandemic status quo was already riddled with achievement gaps, NWEA asserted.

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“Scaling interventions takes significant time and resources, and we know the hard work of educators often takes years to show up in test results,” added Lindsay Dworkin, senior vice president of policy and government affairs at NWEA.

NWEA has previously found “modest signs” of academic recovery in grades 3–8 during the 2021–22 school year and into fall 2022. The latest analysis, which covers assessment scores for more than 6.7 million students in about 20,000 public schools, showed that third graders exceeded typical growth by 4% and fourth graders only slipped by 1%. Middle schoolers, however, did not perform nearly as well, falling 16-19% short of expectations in reading and by 6–10% in math, researchers noted.

The average eighth-grader now needs an extra 9.1 months of math instruction and 7.4 months of reading to recover. “In other words, when these students enter their freshman year of high school, they will need to accomplish almost five years of learning during their four years of high school,” says the report, which also found:

  • Black and Hispanic middle schoolers will need more months in math—6.2 and 6.4, respectively—than Asian and white students, who need 4.3 months and 5.3 months.
  • In reading, white, Black, and Hispanic students need additional time—4.9 months, 4.9 months, and 6.7 months—than Asian students, who need 1.4 months.
  • Seventh graders will need an estimated 5.9 months of school to recover learning losses in math and reading.
  • Sixth graders will require 4 additional months in reading and 3.5 months in math.
  • Despite the academic growth in 2022–23, third and fourth graders still have “significant levels” of unfinished learning that will require up to 2.5 months of extra instruction to meet pre-pandemic trends.

Taking action on academic growth

NWEA recommends that policymakers and education leaders:

  • Use local data to guide recovery. States and districts should work together to expand their capacity to gather data and track the effectiveness of interventions.
  • Expand instructional time by providing evidence-based interventions to the students who need additional support. Interventions must be scaled to the size of the challenge, and students in need of additional support may require multiple interventions to fully recover from the pandemic’s impacts.
  • Communicate the importance of academic recovery. States, districts and schools should provide families with timely information about their child’s progress and achievement compared to grade-level standards. Educators should also share resources that families can use to support learning recovery at home.
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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