students at study

Online Students Outperforming Early Predictions

Data gaps also highlight different outcomes for students depending on income and race

A new study of MAP Growth testing for students in grades 3-8 have provided some promising suggestions that the effort to move schools online has not harmed development in reading or math education. A comprehensive study of national test data by NWEA show that students have at nearly the same levels as prior classes on reading. Students did show a decline in math, of approximately 5-10%, a decline that students should be able to recover over time.

The report provides the following key findings:

  • In fall of 2020, students in grades 3–8 performed similarly in reading to same-grade students in fall 2019, but about 5 to 10 percentile points lower in math.
  • In almost all grades, most students made some learning gains in both reading and math since the COVID-19 pandemic started. However, gains in math were lower on average in fall 2020 than prior years, resulting in more students falling behind relative to their prior standing.
  • This fall, students scored better than NWEA’s projections in reading, while math scores were in line with our projections for grades 4–6 and slightly above our projections in grades 7–8.
  • Some differences by racial/ethnic groups are emerging in the fall 2020 data, but it is too early to draw definitive conclusions from these initial results. Student groups especially vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic were more likely to be missing from our data. Thus, we have an incomplete understanding of how achievement this fall may differ across student groups and may be underestimating the impacts of COVID-19.

The report also highlights that the gains and losses might not be distributed evenly. “The public health, education, and economic damages inflicted by COVID-19 are likely to exacerbate long-standing inequities disproportionately affecting Black, Latinx, and Native American students, as well as English learners and students with disabilities,” NWEA reported.

The report highlights that almost a quarter of the students are not included in the data. As the report notes, “Not accounting for these students would produce underestimated learning loss and achievement gaps, potentially resulting in under-provision of support and services to the neediest students.”

The report supports the efforts toward online learning as an alternative and compliment to in-person instruction. But it also highlights that much more must be done to get students better access to computers, free broadband, and a much more aggressive in infrastructure to make access to educational technology a public good. The technology works for those who have it. But the digital divide must become a new, national priority.

Get the full report:

Megan Kuhfeld, Beth Tarasawa, Angela Johnson, Erik Ruzek, and Karyn Lewis, Learning during COVID-19: Initial findings on students’ reading and math achievement and growth (November 2020)