A brand new Education Recovery Scorecard is providing K-12 leaders with perhaps the clearest district-by-district comparison yet of each system’s road to academic recovery. The scorecard should help superintendents and their teams recalibrate their plans to tackle learning loss, say the researchers at Harvard and Stanford universities who conducted the analysis.
“The pandemic was like a band of tornadoes that swept across the country,” said Thomas J. Kane, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and faculty director of the Center for Education Policy and Research, who co-led the analysis. “Some communities were left relatively untouched, while neighboring schools were devastated.”
The scorecard features interactive, district-level maps that are built on data from the 29 states—and Washington, D.C.—that provided data. The results are based on the recently released Nation’s Report Card scores—which showed some of the largest math and reading declines ever recorded occurred over the last three years—as well as on ESSER spending and the length of time districts were remote.
Students in some districts fell behind by as much as a grade level or more while in other school districts the difference between 2019 and 2022 test scores “was essentially zero,” said Sean Reardon, a professor in poverty and inequality at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, who led the data analysis.
“School districts are the first line of action to help children catch up,” added Reardon, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. “The better they know about the patterns of learning loss, the more they’re going to be able to target their resources effectively to reduce educational inequality of opportunity and help children and communities thrive.”
Education Recovery Scorecard: Drilling down
The average public school student in grades 3-8 lost a half-year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading, the researchers say, but:
- 6% of students attended districts that lost more than a year of learning in math.
- 3% of students go to school in districts where math achievement actually rose.
- The quarter of schools with the highest shares of students receiving federal lunch subsidies missed two-thirds of a year of math learning.
- The quarter of schools with the fewest low-income students lost two-fifths of a year.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the analysis showed that test scores dropped further in districts that were remote than in those that opened for in-person learning. But the researchers call this a “minor factor” as test scores fell even in districts where students spent the whole year in their classrooms. “A lot of things were happening that made it hard for kids to learn,” Reardon said.
Zooming in on just one state, the Education Recovery Scorecard found that students in Florida lost over five months of learning in math between 2019 and 2022 and only one month in reading. Still, the impacts vary widely among districts, with students in some districts losing nearly a year of learning in math. The researchers hope their scorecard will motivate local governments and community organizations to help schools by, for instance, launching tutoring programs at local libraries and offering school vacation academies and summer learning opportunities.
“The whole village needs to hear the bell ringing, not just schools,” Kane said. “We cannot wait for the spring 2023 state test results next fall to tell us that we underinvested in recovery efforts.”