The COVID-19 Pandemic and Student Achievement on Ohio’s Third-Grade English Language Arts Assessment

Research Rundown Issue: February '21
Publisher: The Ohio State University
Date Published: January '21


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.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

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.

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