Study shows major learning loss for grades K-2

Learning loss is a growing obstacle as students return to school in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic

Students will likely experience 2 to 4 months of learning loss as a result of COVID-19 disruptions, especially in grades K-2, according to a new report.

The findings from Illuminate Education highlight a need for additional instructional support this fall.

“The data are telling us what we already suspected: this fall, educators need to be ready to use the appropriate tools to identify and contend with student learning loss, particularly in grades K-2,” said Dr. John Bielinski, Illuminate Education’s senior director of research and development. “Now more than ever, the screening will be instrumental in understanding where the biggest learning gaps are, and our team will be watching closely to provide guidance where we can with the most up-to-date information.”

Using data from its FastBridge platform, Illuminate Education compared scores in reading and math to estimate typical summer learning loss and then calculated the learning attributed to instruction between spring 2019 and fall 2019 screening. National growth norms were used to produce a more precise estimate of learning loss absent formal classroom instruction and project expected loss from school closures in March. Researchers plan to analyze early data from the schools that come back and screen in August to get a preliminary look at the effects of COVID-19 before analyzing a full data set later in the fall.

Findings indicate that while estimated score loss varied by assessment and grade level, students across the board will start the 2020-21 school year behind where they would be after a typical summer break.

Main takeaways include:

  • Technology gaps matter: Disparities in digital access impact how engaged students are during remote learning. Students who participated in frequent virtual interactions with teachers will likely have smaller losses than students who did not. School leaders must use their understanding of students’ access to technology when planning instruction this fall.
  • Schools can expect significant losses in reading and math achievement. Research suggests that students are likely to return to school in fall 2020 with less-developed reading and math skills than typical at each grade level in prior years.
  • Reading learning loss is greatest among grades K-2: Learning loss in reading is seen across all grades, at a projected rate of up to two months, but is most pronounced in kindergarten. Oral reading fluency loss is most pronounced in grade 5.
  • Math learning loss is present across grades K-5: There are higher rates of learning loss across mathematics in K-5 grades, at a projected rate of up to four months of learning loss. Educators will need to provide extra opportunities for students to practice math and receive additional support when needed.

The report compares prior research about typical learning loss over summer break (“summer slide”) to current analyses to understand the potential impact of the COVID-19 crisis disruption. In addition to academic losses, there are likely to be significant social and emotional effects as a result of COVID-19.

To support students and make up expected COVID-19 learning loss, researchers recommend schools:

  • Conduct fall screening to identify the largest learning gaps and address these through intensified Tier 1 instruction.
  • Focus on strong core instruction within school-wide social-emotional behavior (SEB) supports so that students are mentally and emotionally ready to resume learning.
  • Look to benchmarks as the goal for all students to return to but understand that Rate of Improvement (ROI) is the key metric to focus on when conducting progress monitoring this school year.
  • Front-load intervention and progress monitoring as quickly and efficiently as possible for students well below norms rather than requesting a special education evaluation as you might in typical school years.
  • Spend more time focused on reading and math in K-3 classrooms.

Material from a press release was used in this report.