Across three large school districts in metro-Atlanta, robust analyses show the reductions in learning gains due to the pandemic have been uneven.
The average slowdown in achievement growth ranged from none to as high as seven months of learning across the districts for eighth grade math and 7.5 months for seventh grade reading across the three districts.
The study also highlights pandemic-induced changes in learning gains for different student subgroups, which compound disparities that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, math achievement growth for students eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals—a crude measure of poverty—was substantially lower than for ineligible students, with a disparity of up to 3.2 months of learning in sixth grade in one district (more than a third of a typical 9.5-month school year).
On average, elementary students who returned to in-person instruction during fall 2020 experienced at least one-third greater learning growth than their peers who continued to learn remotely, according to the groundbreaking report by economist Tim Sass, the MAPLE faculty director who led the research. The study is one of just a few independent, multi-district studies to estimate the pandemic’s impact on student achievement in the United States.
“The results clearly show the pandemic has had significant negative effects on students’ lives, including their academic achievement, with some students being more severely affected than others,” Sass said. “The good news is that our district partners are actively using these results and recommendations to inform long-term response plans.”
The MAPLE report recommends school districts use federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to implement targeted, evidence-based solutions such as providing high-intensity, small-group tutoring, extending school days during the academic year and offering academic support programs during the summer and other school breaks along with strong incentives to participate.
Funding for the research was provided by a grant from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta (CFGA).
“We appreciate the detailed research MAPLE has conducted to understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on learning,” said Lauren Thomas Priest, a CFGA program associate. “The Community Foundation aims to serve our community by addressing the most challenging issues of our time, including the equitable education of our children. As the community works to understand the full scope of these reductions in learning gains and their long-term impact, we can work together to pursue funding across multiple entities, including philanthropy, and implement the recommended solutions,” she added.
Download the report, Student Achievement Growth During the COVID-19 Pandemic, at https://gpl.gsu.edu/publications/student-achievement-growth-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/.
Director of Research
Georgia Policy Labs
Thomas Goldring is the director of research at the Georgia Policy Labs. He supports the faculty directors in managing research projects and providing analytical and technical support across GPL’s three component parts. He has researched issues in K-12 education, including educational accountability, school finance, and graduation rates; career and technical education; postsecondary education; and health care. He received his doctorate in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan prior to Georgia State University.
Metro-Atlanta Policy Lab for Education
Georgia Policy Labs
Tim Sass is an applied micro-economist whose research focuses on the economics of education. Specific areas of interest include teacher labor supply, the measurement of teacher quality and school choice. He is also the faculty director of the Metro Atlanta Policy Lab for Education in the Georgia Policy Labs. He holds the W.J. Usery Chair of the American Workplace. His work has been published in numerous academic journals, including the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Public Economics, Journal of Labor Economics, Review of Economics and Statistics, Journal of Law and Economics, and Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. His research has been supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation. He has acted as a consultant to school systems in New York City, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, NC, the State of Florida, and the State of New York. He is a senior researcher at the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) and serves on the editorial board of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.