The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted all aspects of families’ lives, including children’s formal schooling. In mid-March of 2020, public schools in Georgia were forced to close and quickly transition to remote learning for the remainder of school year (SY) 2019-20. As the pandemic wore on, most school districts in metro-Atlanta began SY 2020-21 with fully remote instruction and have subsequently transitioned in phases to offer in-person instruction. Throughout this tumultuous time, schools have strived to keep all student engaged and learning, yet the pandemic had differential impacts on students’ lives. This project examines how students’ academic outcomes have been affected differently by the pandemic and offers evidence-based recommendations for using federal dollars to support students whose academic progress has been slowed by the pandemic.
Using individual-level student data from three urban school districts in metro-Atlanta, we measure the impact of the pandemic on student learning outcomes and how those effects vary across grades, subjects, student groups, and instructional modes. We compare students’ formative test scores in SY 2020-21 to what we expect their scores would have been had the pandemic not occurred. We refer to this difference between actual and predicted test scores as the change in student achievement growth. Our purpose is to identify which students will need the most support and resources as we collectively emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and point to evidence-based practices that school districts can use in their remediation and recovery efforts.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has led to substantial reductions in student achievement growth and these impacts have grown over time.
- The impacts of the pandemic on student achievement growth vary considerably by subject, grade level, and school district.
- Students eligible for free or reduced-price meals—a crude measure of poverty—generally experienced lower achievement growth (relative to similar students prior to the pandemic) than did students who were not eligible for subsidized meals, but the magnitude of the differences varied considerably across grades, subjects, and districts.
- On average, historically marginalized groups, such as Black students, Hispanic students, and English learners, tended to experience greater reductions in achievement growth (relative to similar students prior to the pandemic) than did White and English-proficient students, but these differences varied substantially by grade, subject, and district.
WSB Radio interviews Dr. Tim Sass on May 24, 2021
With over $4 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, public schools face important decisions about how best to allocate those resources to mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic on students’ academic outcomes. While the Act requires at least 20 percent of the funds allocated to school districts be used to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions, we believe that districts should have the best evidence available to ensure that all funding decisions are informed by research on the efficacy of potential programs and the academic needs of students. Given the magnitude and uneven distribution of the effects of the pandemic on student achievement growth, strategies that are most likely to be successful are:
- High-dosage tutoring for students who have suffered the largest reductions in student achievement growth. These programs would include at least three 30- to 60-minute sessions per week that are aligned with classroom content and that do not exceed three students per tutor.
- Longer school days during the regular academic year that are individualized—with a group size of 20 or fewer students—and aligned with standard curriculum.
- Between 70 and 130 hours of academically-oriented programs during the summer or other school breaks that have strong incentives for participation.