March 17, 2021

March 2021 Research Rundown

By Krista Kaput

Welcome to EdAllies’ March 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 on early literacy,
  • Parent perspectives on assessments, and 
  • 9th-grade on-track indicators. 
1. COVID-19 Means More Students Not Learning to Read 

Amplify, February 2021

Data from over 400,000 students across 41 states found that more students in all elementary grades and demographic groups have fallen behind in reading skills during COVID-19. These losses were concentrated in kindergarten and first grade. The number of kindergarten students in the lowest category for early literacy skills rose from 26% before COVID to 47% this year. This is a 68% increase in the percentage of kindergarten students at the greatest risk for not learning to read. There were similar results for first graders, with students in the lowest category rising from 26% to 43%. These losses were more stark for Black and Latino kindergarteners and first graders.

The researchers urge districts to implement two-year, integrated plans for students who are at high risk for not learning to read. They recommend spending more time on literacy instruction, supporting instructional staff in gaining knowledge in the science of reading, and doing formative assessments at least three times a year to help inform support and instruction. 


The Amplify study is just one in a growing list indicating that academic disruption—particularly for students of color and low-income students—due to COVID-19 school closures is something we cannot ignore. Last month, the Biden Administration released guidance that gives states some flexibility in annual assessments, while still ensuring they are administered to get baseline data to measure the recovery process. This decision is critical to better understand where students are academically, which research-based interventions to use to accelerate learning, how resources should be equitably allocated, and how to plan for long-term academic recovery. 

That said, since these tests don’t cover our youngest learners, it is critical that Minnesota prioritize other strategies to support early literacy. For example, increasing access to training for teachers, local curriculum and strategies grounded in the science of reading, and statewide implementation of Kindergarten Entry Profile to measure and support the growth of our youngest learners. It also highlights that using federal funds to provide additional support to students in pre-K through third grade will be an essential strategy to mitigate long-term impacts of disrupted learning. 
Read the full study

2. Year-End Assessment Survey: Initial Findings from a Nationwide Survey of Public-School Parents 

National PTA and Learning Heroes, February 2021

A national survey of over 1,500 parents and guardians with K-12 students explored perspectives on student progress compared to a normal school year and opinions on administering state assessments to measure the pandemic’s impact on learning. The majority of parents—particularly Black and Latino parents—favor end-of-year state assessments this spring to measure the impact that COVID-19 has had on student learning. Nearly two-thirds of parents also think that their child is academically behind where they would be in a normal school year. The survey also found that while parents don’t want the results to be used for accountability, they do want the results before the beginning of the next school year (69%) and to be provided with resources that they can use to review materials with their children (76%). 


When schools closed last spring, parents had to play a new role in their children’s education. This has given families a front-row seat to curriculum and learning—and a front-row seat to the significant disruption most students have faced. Now, parents want to know both how their children are faring and what they can do to ensure they stay on track for academic success. This gives states an opportunity to rethink assessments and how results can be used to engage with families and schools, particularly as a tool to help guide interventions and support, rather than for accountability. Minnesota should respond by making the data gathered from this year’s MCAs as informative, timely, and actionable as possible, getting results quickly into the hands of teachers and families, and providing support to ensure they know how to interpret and act on individual student needs.
Explore the survey results


3. Preventable Failure: Improvements in Long-Term Outcomes when High Schools Focused on the Ninth Grade Year

UChicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, April 2014

In 2007, Chicago Public Schools launched an “on track” initiative, centered on keeping more 9th-grade students on track to graduate from high school. Freshmen were considered to be on-track if they had enough credits to be promoted to 10th grade and received no more than one failing grade per semester in a core class—reading, math, science, or social studies. Using these on-track metrics, the district used data to monitor students’ dropout risk throughout 9th grade and encouraged teachers to implement strategies to help students get back on track. To examine the impact of the initiative, researchers used longitudinal data from 2007 to 2013, and found system-wide improvement in 9th-grade on-track rates, as well as grades and graduation rates. These increases were most significant for students of color. On-track rates increased by 28 percentage points for Black males, 21 percentage points for Black females, 25 percentage points for Latino males, and 19 percentage points for Latina females. 


Minnesota has the lowest graduation rates in the country for Black students, the second lowest for Latino and Indigenous students, and is 40th for Asian students. Fifteen states currently use an on-track measure to help ensure more students graduate from high school on time and Minnesota can better support students by adopting a similar approach. There is currently a bipartisan bill (HF1712/SF1537) that would expand college and career measures in the World’s Best Workforce legislation to include a 9th-grade on-track measure, among others. The bill has received hearings in the House and Senate education committees and is included in the House’s education policy omnibus bill. 
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