COVID stripped students of nearly 35% of a year’s worth of learning

District leaders are no strangers to the impact the pandemic has had on student learning. But new research reveals just how significant the issue is—and it’s shocking.

More than half of all public schools in the country reported utilizing high-dosage tutoring to combat pandemic-related learning loss during the 2021-22 school year, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Most notably, nearly two-thirds (64%) of all public schools agree that the pandemic played a substantial role in students being behind one grade level at the start of the school year. But despite these recovery efforts, districts may be expected to intervene at a rate greater than they expected.

According to a paper published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, students “lost out on about 35% of a school year’s worth of learning,” the paper reads. And on average, the learning progress of school-aged children has slowed down “substantially” during the pandemic.

The researchers analyzed data from 42 different studies between 2020 and 2022 on learning progress during the pandemic across 15 countries. The results indicate that while we expected students to recover from learning loss in the early days of the pandemic, the issue still persists.

“One may expect that children were able to recover learning that was lost early in the pandemic after teachers and families had time to adjust to the new learning conditions and after structures for online learning and for recovering early learning deficits were set up,” the report reads. However, learning deficits are “difficult to compensate for and tend to persist in the long run.”

Additionally, no drastic disparities were found with regard to learning loss across grade levels. While many expected deficits to be smaller for older students, the research indicates that older students underwent longer periods of remote learning, “partly on the assumption that they would be better able to learn from home,” the paper reads.

In order for students to bounce back, the researcher wrote, indicates the increased need for well-designed and well-resourced policy initiatives from district leaders and legislators.

“Policy-makers, schools and families will need to identify and realize opportunities to complement and expand on regular school-based learning,” the paper reads. “Experimental evidence from low- and middle-income countries suggests that even relatively low-tech and low-cost learning interventions can have substantial, positive effects on students’ learning progress in the context of remote learning.”

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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