The COVID-19 Slide: What summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement

Research Rundown Issue: April '20
Publisher: Collaborative for Student Growth
Date Published: April '20


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.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

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