As America’s schools reopen this fall, most are returning at least partially–if not fully–virtual. While policymakers, health experts, parents, and educators continue to debate the right course of action, one thing is for certain: back-to-school is here. As students log into their classrooms, another question arises – what has been the impact on student learning since the COVID-19 pandemic began?

This past April, NWEA’s own researchers provided projections of COVID-19-related learning loss based on typical summer learning loss, as well as historical studies on school disruptions like those due to a natural disaster. Based on these projections, the estimated impact on learning was significant – especially in math.

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What these projections didn’t include, however, was any positive mitigation efforts like remote learning or tutoring, the variability in student access to high speed internet or distance learning capable devices, or instruction provided at home by parents/caregivers.

This means students returning to school in the fall will almost certainly have greater variances in academic skills and knowledge than in a normal, non-pandemic year. Peters, Rambo-Hernandez, Makel, Mathews, and Plucker recently examined classroom academic skills for a typical fifth grade class and found that a teacher could see up to seven grade levels of skills represented in one classroom. They estimated that the pandemic will only exacerbate these variances. Teachers must be prepared to expect students who fell much further behind since March, as well as students who may have accelerated and gained learning.

About the Author:

In his capacity as Executive Vice-President for Assessment and Professional Learning for the District Division at NWEA, Fred McDaniel leads the Content Solutions, Psychometrics, Professional Learning and School Improvement teams. Fred has worked in the education and educational assessment arena for many years, beginning his career in Virginia as a boarding school counselor for students with emotional and learning needs. He also worked as a teaching parent in residential facilities in rural North Carolina for children and adolescents in trouble with the law. It was during this time that he became interested in educational assessment and research while trying to advocate for the students he served. Fred has managed accountability and assessment systems as well as served as the chief planning officer for a large public school system in South Carolina. Fred has a B.A in Psychology from the University of Montana, an M.Ed. in Educational Research and Measurement as well as a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Research from the University of South Carolina. Fred has previously served as the director of test development, vice president of operations, and senior-vice president for product management for NWEA.