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

Academic diversity in student achievement is not a new concept to educators who each fall prepare instructional plans that must meet a range of academic skills and knowledge of their incoming students. For example, a typical fifth-grade pre-pandemic classroom included studentswho, on average, ranged up to seven grade levels (above and below). During the pandemic, this variability has expanded.

“The continued impact of the pandemic requires focus, new strategies, creative solutions, and collaboration between educators and families,” said Dr. Chase Nordengren, principal research lead for Effective Instructional Strategies at NWEA. “Purchasing a new tutoring or curricular solution isn’t enough; leaders must make deep investments in teachers that enhance their knowledge and skills, and create the sustained conditions that make classrooms equitable places to learn.”

To address increased variability, NWEA’s professional learning experts recommend:

  • Balancing between on-grade and off-grade learning to maximize growth. Teachers will need to have deep knowledge of their own grade’s academic standards as well as those one-to-two grade levels above and below with the goal of ensuring all students have access to grade-level materials. 
  • Using real-time checks (formative assessment practices) to understand whether and how students have mastered academic content and make quick adjustments to ensure all students can reach their highest potential.
  • Supporting teachers by reinforcing their expertise and skills with opportunities for professional growth that highlight the essential role they play in students’ lives.

“This latest report from NWEA is not surprising to our District 81 educators who have always used data to differentiate and guide instruction during flexible group times,” said Dr. Kimberly Boryszewski, Superintendent of Schools at Schiller Park School District 81 in Illinois. “Post pandemic, this is more important than ever. Learning gaps across grade levels have created conditions in schools that demand educators meet students at their individual instructional level to target their personal academic needs. SD81 has expanded flexible group time throughout the entire school day and across all content areas to work towards closing the significant achievement gaps created by the pandemic.”

The new research report is authored by Drs. Karyn Lewis, Megan Kuhfeld, Meredith Langi, Scott Peters, and Erin Fahle.

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