COVID-19 Impacts on Student Learning: Evidence from Interim Assessments in California
Libby Pier, Michael Christian, Hayley Tymeson, & Robert H. Meyer
At the first anniversary of school closures due to COVID-19, nearly half of the K–12 students in the U.S. were attending schools that were either fully remote or offering hybrid instruction, with more than 70 percent of California students attending schools remotely. For this reason, continued efforts to unpack the effects of COVID-19 on student outcomes are especially important for California students, who may be experiencing larger-than-average effects of continued school closures relative to the nation overall.
In this report, we used data from multiple interim assessments to examine how the rate of student learning from fall 2019 through winter 2020–21 differs from that of student learning before COVID-19. Specifically, we assessed the degree to which approximately 100,000 students across 19 local education agencies (LEAs) in California experienced slower academic growth compared to previous school years (i.e., a learning lag) by the time they completed winter 2021 interim assessments (NWEA MAP Growth, Renaissance Learning Star, and Curriculum Associates i-Ready) in Grades 4–8. To understand equity gaps in the degree to which students have experienced lost instructional opportunities, we disaggregated these results for students who were economically disadvantaged, students who were English learners, students with disabilities, students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds, students with low prior achievement, and students who were experiencing homelessness.
We opted to use the term learning lag rather than learning loss in order to underscore that a lag in learning can occur relative to expected progress, even as students continue to learn and gain new knowledge and skills, and also that learning that has been delayed during the pandemic can be recouped through deliberate intervention. Our results show that by the time students completed winter interim assessments in the 2020–21 school year, they had experienced a learning lag of approximately 2.6 months in English language arts (ELA) and 2.5 months in math. We further found that students who were economically disadvantaged, English learners, and Latinx experienced greater learning lag than students who were not in these groups. We position these findings in the context of other recent studies that have estimated COVID-19 impacts on student learning, discuss caveats of using interim assessments (including those administered remotely), and highlight the importance of examining differences in the effects for students in different groups. These findings can be useful for guiding decision-making and resource allocation at the state and local levels.