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Nationwide data offer critical new insights into the pandemic’s academic impact on younger students' learning.

Young students less prepared for grade-level reading, math


Nationwide data offer critical new insights into the pandemic’s academic impact on children who were not in formal schooling in spring 2020

Key points:

Children who were in early childhood learning programs during the pandemic are struggling to keep up with grade-level learning in math and English, according to School Readiness for Young Students Post-Pandemic, a new report from Curriculum Associates that examines nationwide data quantifying the latent academic impact of disrupted access to early childhood care and education for the nation’s youngest learners.

This report is one of the first to gather and analyze nationally representative data from more than five million Grades K–2 students, thanks to their i-Ready® Diagnostic for Reading and for Mathematics.

“While learning disruptions are well-known and documented for school-age students due to the pandemic, less is known regarding the impact on children who were in early childhood or pre-K settings in 2020 and 2021. Those children, who were ages 1 to 4 at the start of the pandemic, are coming to school less prepared and lagging behind expectations with signs of a slow recovery,” said Dr. Kristen Huff, vice president of assessment and research at Curriculum Associates. “These data show that post-pandemic recovery is still an uphill battle for millions of students nationwide, reinforcing the challenges our educators face in the classroom every day.”

Some of the key findings include:

  • Students appear less prepared at school entry, with greater proportions of students entering below grade level. Some grades demonstrate modest recovery. 
    • Grade K students show latent, albeit small decreases in school readiness from pre- to post-pandemic, with nearly identical trends from 2019 to 2021, but show small declines in years since.
    • Average test scores dropped 2.8 points and 9.1 points for Grade 1 and Grade 2 students, respectively, from pre-pandemic to 2021. Grade 1 scores continue to decline heading into 2023, while Grade 2 scores show modest signs of recovery.
  • Trends in mathematics performance and readiness at school entry show little indication of returning to a pre-pandemic level.
    • Grade K students again demonstrate a delayed impact of pandemic disruptions for mathematics, with comparable trends from fall 2019 to fall 2021, but show small declines in achievement in fall 2022 and 2023.
    • By comparison, students in Grades 1 and 2 have suffered more pronounced declines with less evidence of recovery, with average scale scores decreasing by 4.3 and 5.7 points, respectively, from 2019 to 2023.

While the pandemic was disruptive to all early childhood care and services, the report shows the impact of this disruption was not equally felt across communities. Many minoritized communities relied on continued access to public pre-K programs and thus lost services entirely with pandemic closures. These findings echo the emerging trends described in the latest edition of Curriculum Associates’ State of Student Learning research

“In analyzing these data by various demographics, such as grade, race, and income level, we recognize a familiar phenomenon: the pandemic exacerbated educational socioeconomic inequities,” said Tyrone Holmes, chief inclusion officer at Curriculum Associates. “The good news is that these data can help guide decision makers in how to best allocate resources and support the students most in need.”

“In an equitable world, every educator would have the support, tools, and data to help every student achieve their potential,” continued Huff. “Our students have faced tremendous hardship, and the road ahead will not be easy. We owe it to them to be ambitious and change the course of learning now.”

School Readiness for Young Students Post-Pandemic is the seventh in a series of research reports on the effects of unfinished learning conducted by Curriculum Associates. More information on Curriculum Associates’ research on unfinished learning may be found here

This press release originally appeared online.

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