Learning during COVID-19: Reading and math achievement in the 2020-21 school year

Research Rundown Issue: August '21
Publisher: Center for School and Student Progress
Date Published: July '21


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.”

Why This Matters in Minnesota

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