Understanding the Pandemic Effects on Learning Loss and Learning Recovery

The Role of Student Growth & Statewide Testing

As of January 2021, the United States is almost completely in the dark as to the pandemic effects on student learning. In our recent publication, Understanding Pandemic Learning Loss and Learning Recovery: The Role of Student Growth & Statewide Testing we show how spring 2021 assessment data and student growth results derived from it put states in a position to address critical questions regarding academic learning loss. Answers to these questions, together with academic data derived from other sources, will help states, districts and schools construct policies and interventions designed to ameliorate the impact of the pandemic on students. Early interim assessment results have given us a glimpse of the magnitude of the impact but information to help us understand the extent of the impact on student learning has been extremely limited otherwise. We need statewide assessment and growth data to intelligently move forward.

Statewide assessments are often confounded with their use as part of state accountability systems. With traditional accountability determinations in 2021 being questionable at best, what purpose should state tests serve in 2021? While the majority of states continue to pursue some type of statewide testing this spring, several are seeking a federal waiver. We contend that statewide tests in 2021 will provide crucial data that will help address three critical questions: Who needs help?What do they need help in?, and How much help do they need?

Sizing Up Learning Loss Statewide and Identifying a Path to Recovery

Students nationwide have suffered disruptions to their learning due to the pandemic effects. Learning loss will vary in type and extent across students. To help determine viable academic recovery strategies, states can leverage their statewide assessments and historical student growth analyses to investigate student learning loss statewide. In some cases, learning loss will be minor and repairable as part of normal schooling. In other cases, learning loss will be severe and require supports that go well beyond what a student normally encounters if we expect them to catch up. With regard to learning loss, understanding Who?, What? and How Much? will be invaluable in mapping out a path forward. 

Beyond spring 2021, statewide testing data will continue to play an important role in understanding how well pandemic-related academic recovery efforts are proceeding. The most severely impacted students may require several years to recover from losses incurred during the pandemic, whereas other students with modest learning loss may require only a year. Monitoring all students’ progress will be essential to ensuring recovery efforts are working and helping to avoid situations where students fail to recover and spiral downward academically. 

Absent this data, efforts to address inequity in our education system will likely take a significant step backward as the disadvantaged suffer the worst consequences of the pandemic while the advantaged predominantly recover. Preventing this outcome will almost certainly require an unprecedented effort nationwide informed by high-quality data from statewide testing; an effort that begins with the test data states are able to collect in spring 2021.