August 16, 2021

August 2021 Research Rundown

By Krista Kaput

Welcome to EdAllies’ August Research Rundown: our curated list of recent, relevant research we think is worth adding to the education equity conversation. This month, we are sharing studies on:

  • The impact of COVID-19 on reading and math achievement,
  • What teacher licensure exam data tells us about program quality and access, and
  • The impact of a universal FAFSA completion policy in Louisiana.
1. Learning during COVID-19: Reading and math achievement in the 2020-21 school year

Center for School and Student Progress, July 2021

This report confirms findings from other recent research on lost learning during COVID-19, with notable declines in student achievement across the board, but more significant impact for students of color and low-income students. Using data from 5.5 million students in grades 3-8, researchers compared math and reading achievement data from the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years. They found that achievement was lower in math and reading for all grade levels, but it was particularly evident for grades 3-5.

Students attending schools that serve large concentrations of low-income students showed more than double the declines of students who attend low-poverty schools. Moreover, students of color—particularly Black, Latino, and Indigenous students— experienced greater declines than white and Asian students. As a result, existing achievement gaps got much worse during COVID-19.

Unfortunately, these findings may actually underestimate the impact of the pandemic on academic progress. One in five students who took the assessments in fall 2019 didn’t take the 2020-21 assessments, with a sizable proportion being students of color and low-income students. Given this, the researchers note: “the true impacts of the pandemic on academic
achievement this year may be even more pronounced than what we report.”


On almost a weekly basis, new data affirms that students across the country lost meaningful learning time during COVID, and are further behind on meeting key benchmarks. At the end of August, Minnesota will have our statewide MCA data to serve as a benchmark for local student needs and to inform ongoing decisions on how to target resources and supports. To help schools address this problem, the federal government has made historic investments, with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) dedicating half of their  American Rescue Plan allocation to learning loss. As schools continue to plan for the upcoming year, it’s critical that they draw on best practices—like learning acceleration, targeted tutoring, and extended learning—and engage with families to ensure that they are meeting the needs of their students.
Read the full report

2. Driven by Data: Using licensure tests to build a strong, diverse teacher workforce

National Council on Teacher Quality, July 2021

To gain a better understanding of how teacher licensure tests impact entry into the profession, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) gathered elementary licensure exam data for teacher candidates from 38 states and the District of Columbia. They found that in states with a strong testing system, only 45% of elementary teacher candidates passed the licensure exams on the first attempt. Moreover, while 58% of white test-takers passed the exam on the first try, only 43% of test-takers of color did.

To gauge the impact that these licensure exam failures have on the “walk-away rate”—the proportion of test-takers who fail on their first attempt and do not retake the test—the researchers examined data from 24 states. They found that a quarter of the test takers that do not pass on their first attempt do not retake the test within 3 years. For test takers of color, more than a third do not retake if they fail on the first attempt.

The researchers offer several recommendations for state agencies and testing companies to help more teacher candidates pass the licensure exams without sacrificing quality, including:

  • Improving access to and use of the assessment data to help inform improvements,
  • Ensuring that coursework (not just test prep strategies) are preparing the teacher candidates for the exams, and
  • Exploring concerns around bias in testing.


Minnesota was identified as a state that has a weak licensing testing system. NCTQ noted two specific weakness with the Minnesota Teacher Licensing Examinations (MTLE):

  • It does not separately test knowledge of each subject area: Combining multiple subjects on the MTLE—math, reading, and science—into one subscore makes it harder to identify weaknesses across candidates and provide targeted support on specific subjects.
  • The state does not make the cut score public: The minimum passing score (cut score) is supposed to align with the recommended scores from a formal standard-setting process. By not making the recommended cut score public, it makes it impossible for the public to know if the state is adhering to the recommended score or if they are lowering

Ultimately, because of the weaknesses of our teacher exams, the results shed little light on the performance of Minnesota’s teacher preparation programs. That said, one notable local finding is the significant variation in first-attempt pass rates for test takers of color. While one school has a first-attempt pass rate of just 40%, others range as high as 100%—demonstrating that there is room and potential to grow on this important metric.
Read the analysis

3. College Enrollment and Mandatory FAFSA Applications: Evidence from Louisiana

Annenberg Institute at Brown University, June 2021

In 2018, Louisiana passed a law requiring all students to fill out FAFSA—with options for parental opt-out or good cause exemptions—for high school graduation. To gauge the impact of this law and whether FAFSA completion was a barrier for high school students in accessing financial aid and matriculating to college, researchers used FAFSA completion data from Louisiana. In the short term, researchers found that the policy was highly successful in increasing FAFSA completion. The average Louisiana high school increased its FAFSA completion rate amongst graduating seniors by about 19 percentage points—and college admission increased as well.

The researchers found that the effects of the policy were more concentrated amongst schools that had larger populations of low-income students, and uncovered no evidence that the policy created a barrier to high school graduation. On the contrary, they found that high school graduation rates increased.


Minnesota has large gaps between students of color and white students in college matriculation and graduation rates, as well as remedial education enrollment. As we work to address these gaps and ensure that all students who graduate from Minnesota’s schools are prepared for college and career, it’s important to ensure that we are removing barriers to their success. A better sense of financial aid available can go a long way towards helping students identify a path to postsecondary education they may have previously written off. At the same time, policymakers must continue working to remove academic barriers through strategies such as increasing access to advanced coursework.
Read the research

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