‘Learning Loss, in General, Is a Misnomer’: Study Shows Kids Made Progress During COVID-19

By Sarah Schwartz for edweek.org

Even though the pandemic has interrupted learning, students are still making progress in reading and math this year, according to a new analysis from the assessment provider Renaissance.

The company looked at a large sample of students—about 3.8 million in grades 1-8—who had taken Star Assessments, which are interim tests, in either math or reading during the winter of the 2020-21 school year. (Because they were comparing these scores to fall 2019 and fall 2020, only students who had taken Star tests in each of those three periods were included in the analysis.)

Overall, the analysis found, students’ scores rose during the first half of the 2020-21 school year. In other words, children did make academic progress during COVID-19. Even more encouraging, the amount of progress made was similar to what Renaissance would expect in a non-pandemic year.

“Learning loss, in general, is a misnomer. Kids’ scores are going up,” said Katie McClarty, the vice president of research and design at Renaissance.

For the most part, the gap between where students’ scores are now and where Renaissance would estimate them to be in a “normal year” is shrinking. But, the company found, that gap still exists.

Using past results, the researchers made an estimate of how well students would have done on these tests had the pandemic not hit. Then, they compared this estimate to students’ actual scores from this winter. They looked at students’ percentile ranks—a norm-referenced score that compares a student’s performance to that of other students in the same grade nationwide. The scale was last updated in 2017, pre-COVID-19.

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