6 facts paint fuller picture of ‘COVID slide’ learning loss

Elementary school students who took assessments at home scored higher than students who were tested in school
By: | October 5, 2020
(GettyImages/Klaus Vedfelt)

Age, race, income level and remote learning are all key factors in the ‘COVID slide’ learning loss seen in students returning to school this fall, according to a new analysis

Diagnostic testing conducted through Curriculum Associates, whose assessments are used by nearly 30 percent of K–8 students, were compared to results dating back to 2017. A brief released by the company on Monday reported the following:

  • More students returned to school not prepared for grade-level work due to last spring’s shutdowns.
  • Students in grades 2 through 4 fell the farthest behind.
  • Students fell farther behind in math than in reading.
  •  30% of second graders started the year two grade levels below in math, a rate that’s 10% above the historical average.
  • 25% of second graders were two grade levels behind in reading, six points above the historical average of 19%.
  •  Students in grades 1–5 who sat took math and reading assessments at home this fall outscored students who were tested at school.

“The shift to remote learning has magnified already pervasive inequities for millions of school children,” said Kristen Huff, vice president of assessment and research at Curriculum Associates, who conducted the analysis. “But it has also created an opportunity to explore a range of important research questions. COVID-19 has had far-reaching—and in many ways poorly understood—implications for our students.”

The overall “COVID slide” may not have been as steep as some experts feared, the analysis found. Still, the results showed that more students in higher minority and higher poverty schools returned to school two or more grade levels behind than did children in lower minority, lower poverty schools.


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Suburban schools had the lowest percentage of students two or more grade levels below.

Researchers, however, could not explain why students who took assessments at home scored better—and above historical averages—than did students tested at school. For instance, they could not determine whether students learned more at home or if they got help from parents.

These findings do reinforce concerns about testing at home, even for low-stakes, diagnostic assessments, the analysis said.

“In a moment when teachers are grappling with the effects of trauma, and families face once unimaginable challenges, this data raises questions that don’t have easy answers,” said Rob Waldron, CEO of Curriculum Associates.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.