Fall testing paints fuller picture of COVID learning loss

Black, Hispanic, and Native American students, as well as high-proverty populations, suffered steeper learning loss
By: | November 24, 2020
Students in various grades may need weeks or longer to make up for learning loss caused by COVID disruptions. (GettyImages/ake1150sb)Students in various grades may need weeks or longer to make up for learning loss caused by COVID disruptions. (GettyImages/ake1150sb)

The COVID learning loss predictions were dire, and several organizations are now releasing data tracking how students have actually performed this fall.

In one series of tests, student reading achievement was, on average, only a single percentile point below normal, according to a report from Renaissance Learning, “How Kids Are Performing: Tracking the Impact of COVID-19 on Reading and Mathematics Achievement.” 

The company compared results from 5.3 Million Star Assessments given in grades 1-8 in fall 2019 and fall 2020, and found that math achievement has been more  significantly impacted

Math scores fell on average seven percentile points.


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Black, Hispanic, and Native American students, as well as high-poverty populations, suffered steeper learning loss in both subjects. Students in rural schools also fell farther behind.

Students in grades 4–7 will need four to seven weeks to catch up in reading while grades 1–3 and 8 were already on track, the Renaissance report found.

Students in grades 5 and 6 were more than 12 weeks behind in math while students in grades 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8 may need four to 11 weeks to meet expectations.

Learning loss remedies needed now

An Illuminate Education report found substantial math losses—ranging three to four months—in grades 5-8. Students would have to progress at nearly twice the annual rate for three to four months to make up for these losses to catch up, the report said.

Students also experienced modest math losses in early elementary grades and modest reading losses across grades K-8 as a result of COVID-19 disruptions, Illuminate Education found.

In reading, the first-grade loss is of most concern because that is a transition year when most students begin to read connected text. Students will have to recoup this growth quickly.

The report makes several recommendations, including conducting reading screenings, additional reading instruction in early grades, and using data to design instructions in 5-8 math.

“If we don’t place greater emphasis on remedying losses now, achievement gaps are likely to widen later,” said Dr. John Bielinski, senior director of research & development at Illuminate Education. “Through regular screening, support, and practice, we can work to ensure students aren’t left behind.”