A recent Stanford University study shows students in 19 states experienced extensive learning loss during the Spring 2020 COVID-19 related school. Learning loss is typically associated with the “summer slide,” the erosion of learning that usually happens during the summer between school years.
Using a standard 180-day school year, the report estimates that students lost, on average 57 to 183 days of learning in reading and an average of 136 to 232 days of math learning in the Spring 2020 semester. The Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) study is the first to estimate the impact of COVID-19 related school closures on K-12 students. It leads to questions about the current strategy in many states of keeping schools closed in-person learning.
In March 2020, most K-12 schools across the country closed their doors and moved to a distance learning model. The Stanford study suggests, “there is no dispute that the amount and quality of learning that has occurred since school buildings were closed has been deeply inferior,” and seeks to answer the question, “How bad is it?”
The question is more relevant as COVID-19 case numbers increase in some areas of the country, and teachers’ unions in some states refuse to go back to the classroom.
As most schools did not conduct their annual outcomes assessments, there is no data readily available on how much students learned or lost from March 2020, when most schools closed, to the end of the school year. To measure the loss, the study uses a proxy for what full-year achievement would have looked like if schools had not moved to a distance learning model. It then estimates the loss of learning to determine how many days of learning the students lost, but they were not in school.
The study examined learning loss due to COVD-19 school closures in 19 states: Arizona, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin. South Carolina students experience the greatest reading learning loss, at 183 days, while North Carolina had the smallest, at 57 days. Learning losses in math were greatest in Illinois, at 232 days, and smallest in Wisconsin, at 136 days.
The study argues that recovery from the Spring 2020 COVID-19 related learning losses could take years, with additional school closures in the 2020-21 school year further impacting the recovery timeline. The authors also note that there are large variations in how the school closures impacted students, with disadvantaged students suffering larger losses than those from more advantaged families.