12 things we know and don’t know about pandemic’s impact on students

Amount of learning loss has likely been understated, a new report says
By: | August 13, 2021

The full academic and social-emotional impacts of the pandemic are still unknown due to testing disruptions and difficulties tracking student wellbeing, a new report finds.

The amount of learning loss has likely been understated by most research because state tests were canceled and fewer students participated when assessments were offered, says a new report on COVID’s academic impacts by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington.

“Gauging the academic impacts of the pandemic is hard: its disruptions to schooling also disrupted the assessment systems used to monitor students’ progress,” the author of the study wrote.

On the social-emotional side, some school districts—especially in rural areas that lacked a strong social services system—struggled to track wellbeing or developed support strategies, says a second CRPE report.

“Our main findings reveal widespread impacts on students’ mental health, while the effects of the pandemic on social-emotional development are less understood. More than anything, our panel felt that the pandemic revealed how inadequately we serve students’ mental health and social-emotional development in normal times,” the authors of the second report said.

The authors divided their reports into three categories: What We Know, What We Don’t Know and What We Need to Know. Here are some of their key findings:

What We Know

  • Test scores show the average student mastered less academic content during the pandemic
  • Impacts on academic achievement, while significant, mask substantial variation in impacts across subjects, grades, demographic groups, and geography.
  • Students who learned remotely for long periods of time and historically marginalized students were more likely to experience negative impacts on their mental or social-emotional health during the pandemic.
  • While some students fared well initially or even fared better when learning remotely, these positive effects did not last.

What We Don’t Know

  • There is limited evidence on impacts on different subgroups of students. For example, there is limited information on the achievement of English language learners and students with disabilities—and none on other special populations, including foster children and children experiencing homelessness.
  • Despite efforts by some studies to gauge the validity of tests given outside of school settings, uncertainty remains about whether they are truly comparable to in-person assessments.
  • Some families of students with disabilities reported that their children went months without receiving their legally mandated therapies.
  •  Most research efforts focused on adolescent students. We have little information on the pandemic’s impact on the well-being of children ages 5 to 10.

What We Need to Know

  • Researchers must understand how students who have become most disengaged from schooling fare over the next five to 10 years.
  • Educators must also determine if the mode of instruction or other factors lead to in-person instruction’s more positive outcomes.
  • Which supports and interventions will help students recover their mental health, well-being and age-appropriate social-emotional competencies.
  • How to coordinate and mobilize families, community members and community-based organizations to support students outside school.