April 14, 2020

April 2020 Research Rundown

By Krista Kaput

Welcome to EdAllies’ April Research Rundown; our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation. This month, we highlight two new studies relevant to the shifting landscape and one that explores underlying AP inequities, looking at:   

  • What summer learning loss can tell us about the impact of school closures due to COVID-19;
  • Distance learning trends and best practices around the country; and, 
  • Advanced Placement participation and exam passage rates across geography, race, and socioeconomic status. 
1. The COVID-19 Slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement 

Collaborative for Student Growth, April 2020 

Researchers at the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) analyzed student achievement and growth data for more than 5 million students in grades 3-8 who took MAP growth assessments in 2017-18. Using the data, they projected student growth trajectories under two scenarios: 

  • A “melt”: Students gain no ground during school closures, and 
  • A “slide”: Students lose academic ground during the school closures at rates that are similar to summer break learning loss. 

The goal of the projections was to show the potential severity of the consequences if actions are not taken to mitigate the threat of learning loss due to COVID-19. Prior research on summer learning loss has found that students can lose anywhere from two weeks to two months of academic growth. However, NWEA’s projections suggest that learning loss related to COVID-19 school closures could be more drastic, with a more significant impact on students in lower grades and on math outcomes. Importantly, the authors note that their projections don’t account for additional impact school closures will have on students who are experiencing trauma, or the variation in educational supports students are experiencing. Ultimately, their projections will likely be conservative for underserved student groups.  

This research aligns with a recent report from Michigan State University, which recommends that states extend the 2020-21 school year to address learning loss. 


All Minnesota students will have faced some learning disruption this semester, regardless of where they go to school. While some schools may have effectively transitioned to distance learning, we know that many of our schools were unprepared for this shift and are working to make the best of the challenging current situation with varying degrees of success. It’s vital that leaders start planning for how they will identify and address the learning loss that many of our students will have experienced, including through summer, extended day, and extended year programming. 
Read the Report

2. District Responses to COVID-19 School Closures 

Center for Reinventing Public Education, April 2020 

To identify best practices in distance learning, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) compiled a database of distance learning plans from 82 districts and 18 charter management organizations (CMOs) around the country. Overall, their analysis found significant differences in approach from district to district, with some simply providing access to resources and others providing full-fledged remote instruction. They also found that CMOs have been more likely to implement rigorous learning plans: CMOs were far more likely than districts to track academic progress (67% v. 27%), grade student work (67% v. 16%), and require teacher-student check-ins (56% v. 33%). 

CRPE also found that district plans are not static: since they started their database and have been updating it weekly, more districts have developed plans for supporting students with special needs, English learners, and other marginalized student groups. They also found that 59% of districts have some type of technology distribution plan and nearly half have plans to help get students access to the internet. CRPE notes that, despite these growing efforts, it may not be enough to close the digital divide. 


From conversations EdAllies has had with educators, students, families and other advocacy organizations, as well as a community survey, the biggest concerns related to distance learning are lack of access to internet and devices, accommodations for students with special needs and English learners, and mental health supports. As Minnesota district and charter leaders hone their distance learning plans, respond to the barriers facing their students, and start to plan how they will spend the federal CARES Act funds, they should look to the most promising models from across the country to pave the most equitable path forward. 
Read the Analysis

3. The Role of Advanced Placement in Bridging Excellence Gaps  

Thomas B. Fordham Institute, February 2020 

The Fordham Institute examined differences in Advanced Placement (AP) participation and exam passage rates across geography, race, and socioeconomic status from 1997-2017. Their analysis found that where students live is strongly correlated with AP participation, with more than half of high-poverty rural schools not offering any AP classes. Specifically, they found that rural high school seniors are one-third less likely to take an AP exam as suburban and urban students. 

Their report also found that even though AP participationboth in courses and examsfor students of color and low-income students has increased, overall they are still underrepresented and are less likely to pass exams. About half of low-income students passed one or more AP exam, as compared to nearly two-thirds of their higher-income peers. The report recommends that states and schools should “redouble their efforts” to ensure that students do not just have access to AP coursework, but also the preparation and support needed to pass the exams. 


In Minnesota, there are significant disparities in AP participation and exam passage rates across race, geography, and socioeconomic status. In 2018, white students accounted for 73% of those enrolled in AP courses, though they make up only 65% of the student body. There are similar disparities across AP exams taken and passed

In addition to these racial disparities, low-income students comprise only 11% of students participating in AP courses and 10% of exams taken in Minnesota, even though they comprise 36% of the student population. Furthermore, at least 75% of Minnesota students taking AP courses attend either a suburban or urban school. These disparities are important because there is ample research that shows that students who participate in AP courses have higher academic achievement and are more likely to attend and graduate college
Read the Report

Why Distance Learning Can’t Always Come First: A Student Perspective

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Learning from National Innovators Part 2: Educating Students Under COVID-19

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