February 15, 2021

February 2021 Research Rundown

By Krista Kaput

Welcome to EdAllies’ February 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:

  • Third-grade English learning loss, 
  • Teacher perspectives on teaching and learning in COVID-19, and 
  • Counselor implicit biases when recommending students for rigorous coursework. 
1. The COVID-19 Pandemic and Student Achievement on Ohio’s Third-Grade English Language Arts Assessment 

The Ohio State University, January 2021

Researchers examined third-grade English Language Arts assessment data, comparing results from fall 2019 to fall 2020, and found that, on average, overall achievement declined by about one-third year’s worth of learning. The researchers also found differences across lines of race, with Black students experiencing declines that were nearly 50% larger than white students—which translates into approximately half a year of learning. Learning loss for low-income students was higher than for more affluent students. Furthermore, the declines in achievement were more pronounced among districts that began the school year in distance learning, as opposed to districts that began with hybrid or in-person learning.

The researchers also noted that “a substantial portion of student achievement declines relate directly to how significantly COVID affected unemployment in the counties where students reside.” They found that, on average, COVID-related unemployment accounts for a decline of about one-third of a year of learning. 


This study is just one in a growing list indicating that learning loss—particularly for students of color and low-income students—due to COVID-19 school closures is something we cannot ignore. While Minnesota understandably canceled our annual statewide test (the MCAs) in spring 2020, policymakers must commit to gathering actionable data about whether students are on track with state standards and build aggressive plans to address learning loss. Without some baseline data for where students are academically, we cannot make decisions about which research-based interventions to use to accelerate learning, how resources should be equitably allocated, and how to plan for long-term academic recovery. 
Read the Full Report

2. Voices from the Classroom 2021: A Survey of America’s Educators 

Educators for Excellence, January 2021

Educators for Excellence surveyed a nationally representative sample of 800 full-time public school teachers to learn about their experiences educating during the pandemic. The survey asked about a wide range of topics: student participation and attendance, assignments and grading, addressing racism, teacher layoffs, and more. These findings are important in the short-term, as schools continue to navigate an unprecedented year, and in the long-term for planning larger policy and programmatic decisions. 

The majority of teachers reported that many critical indicators have gotten worse during the pandemic: student attendance (56%), assignment completion rates (60%), engagement (57%), and student learning (61%). Nearly all teachers (90%) say that their students and families have been concerned about social-emotional health. 


When we talk about COVID-19 recovery, it’s important to focus on both academic acceleration and support for social-emotional health. As schools start getting their second round of federal stimulus funds, they should make sure that they are balancing these two priorities by including families, students, and educator voices in their decision making for how to spend these funds. Furthermore, as EdAllies laid out in coalition letters to the Commissioner of Education and Governor Walz—who also get federal money—state leaders should make sure they are prioritizing equity, supporting targeted and culturally responsive mental health, investing in early literacy programs, and supporting districts in measuring and addressing learning loss. On the Minnesota legislative side, there are two bills (HF4 & HF14) that have already had hearings and would help to address student academic, social-emotional, and digital needs. 
Explore the Findings


3. Do School Counselors Exhibit Bias in Recommending Students for Advanced Coursework?

The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, October 2019

This study observed what happened when counselors evaluated student transcripts that were identical except for the names, which suggested different race and gender combinations. One of the main findings was that counselors were significantly less likely (20 percentage points) to recommend Black females for AP Calculus even when they have a strong transcript with high academics and good behavior. In fact, the counselors were equally as likely to recommend Black females who had the weakest academics and behaviors as those who had the strongest academics and behavior. 

To address these implicit biases, the researchers recommend doing blind reviews of transcripts or involving multiple stakeholders—students, parents, and school professionals—when making decisions about rigorous coursework enrollment. 


In Minnesota and around the country, students of color experience inequitable access to rigorous coursework, including Advanced Placement, concurrent enrollment, Postsecondary Enrollment Options, and Gifted and Talented programming. To address these inequities, over the past couple of years, multiple states have passed automatic enrollment policies that aim to add an objective pathway for identifying students for advanced classes. An automatic enrollment policy—also referred to as an acceleration policy—defaults students into the more rigorous course option if they meet or exceed standards on the annual standards-aligned state assessment in a particular subject area. For example, if a sixth-grade student is proficient on the math MCA, they would automatically be enrolled in the more advanced seventh-grade option. 

And these policies are working. In Washington, the first state to pass an automatic enrollment policy, districts have seen large increases in the percentage of students of color who are enrolled. For example, in Tacoma Public Schools—the state’s fourth-largest school district—enrollment in advanced classes more than doubled from 28% to 71%, and for students of color, enrollment tripled from 20% to 60%. North Carolina passed a math automatic-enrollment policy in 2018 and in just one year 10,000 more students were enrolled in advanced math courses. Minnesota policymakers should follow suit and pass a statewide automatic enrollment policy.
Read the Full Study

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