Experts call for action to support educators in fostering growth for all students, particularly those who have been traditionally underserved with learning gains and educational inequity.

New research finds widening educational inequity in year of COVID

Experts call for action to support educators in fostering growth for all students, particularly those who have been traditionally underserved

New research from the nonprofit NWEA highlights a challenging year in education and notes that most students made lower-than-typical learning gains in math and reading.

The research examined MAP Growth assessment scores from 5.5 million U.S. public school students in grades 3-8 between fall 2020 and spring 2021 and found:

  • On average, students across most grades and subject areas made learning gains in 2020-21, but at a lower rate compared to pre-pandemic trends.
  • 2020-21 outcomes were lower relative to historic trends. Gains across 2020-21 were at a lower rate and students ended the year with lower levels of achievement compared to a typical year, with larger declines in math (8 to 12 percentile points) than in reading (3 to 6 percentile points).
  • Achievement was lower for all student groups in 2020-21; historically underserved students (e.g., American Indian and Alaskan Native, Black, and Latino and/or students in high poverty schools) were disproportionately impacted, particularly in the elementary grades that NWEA studied.

“As our nation continues to grapple with COVID-19 and its impact on every facet of our lives, this new research from NWEA illuminates just how devastating the academic consequences have been for our nation’s children. While all students have suffered from interrupted instruction, students of color and students from low-income families–who are more likely to receive virtual instruction but less likely to have access to sufficient broadband and devices necessary to access virtual learning–have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s academic burden. It is vital that policymakers, school leaders, and educators act on this crucial research to ensure that students who need the most support receive it,” said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, in response to the new research.

NWEA’s research highlights national trends from this past year, but local context matters, and communities should dive deeper into their own data and insights to understand the ongoing impact of the pandemic on their students. The experiences of individuals will differ from the national average, and communities must look beyond just academic indicators to understand the impacts. Attendance, school engagement, social-emotional well-being, family environment, community support, unemployment rates, evictions and other factors should all be looked at holistically to inform actionable plans that are specific to the needs of their own communities as we start the long road to recovery.

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