Data show that students are now more academically different than their pre-pandemic peers--and an alarming learning gap has emerged. achievement gap

Research points to a widening academic divide

Data show that students are now more academically different than their pre-pandemic peers

Math and reading scores demonstrate more variability post-COVID, primarily due to a larger gap between low and high academic achievers, according to NWEA, a nonprofit research and educational services organization serving K-12 students.

NWEA has released new research findings that examine to what degree students’ reading and math test scores have become more variable during the pandemic, and how achievement gains across the pandemic compare to pre-pandemic trends for students who were low- or high-achieving before the pandemic started.

The research used test scores from more than 8 million US students in grades 3 – 8 across 24,000 public schools who took MAP® Growth™ assessments in reading and math comparing results from students who tested during COVID-interrupted school years (2019-20 through 2021-22) and students who tested prior to the onset of the pandemic (between 2016-17 and 2018-19).

Key findings are:

  • Math and reading test scores are more variable in spring 2022 than spring 2019, indicating that students – based on their current achievement levels – are more different from one another now than before the pandemic.
  • Increased variability is primarily driven by a widened distance between low and high achievers given students with lower achievement experienced larger initial impacts at the onset of the pandemic and less improvement during 2021-22.

“There’s no question that the pandemic’s disruptions to learning were profound, but the level and depth of that impact was not equal across all students,” said Dr. Karyn Lewis, one of the authors of the new study. “As we urgently work toward recovery, continuing to understand which students were harmed the most and the magnitude of their unmet needs will keep the focus on them as a priority to ensure appropriate interventions are provided.”

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