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Data Shows Most Kids Aren’t Falling Behind in School During the Pandemic

But that data leaves out many disadvantaged students.

Parents are worried that their kids aren’t getting the education they need through remote learning. They fear that if students don’t develop the skills they’re expected to now, it will be more difficult to succeed in the years following. But new data shows that for many kids, that panic is overblown. Most kids’ reading scores are on par with pre-pandemic test results, and math scores are only slightly lower than usual. However, data is missing for some of the most disadvantaged learners, so the achievement gaps could be much higher for these groups.

The data review, conducted by the education non-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), surveyed about 4.4 million children in grades 3-8. Researchers analyzed the students’ progress in math and reading using scores from the MAP Growth standardized test.

First, they compared MAP scores from fall 2020 to the scores of students in that grade from 2019. In reading, the scores were on par. In other words, the pandemic didn’t stop students from developing reading skills appropriate for their grade level. Students did fall slightly behind in math, dropping an average of five to ten percentage points on the exam compared to students from the previous year.

“Preliminary fall data suggests that, on average, students are faring better than we had feared,” said Beth Tarasawa, the head of research at NWEA, in a news release. 

The researchers also tracked the reading and math gains made by individual students over the course of the pandemic. On average, students improved in both reading and math, but their improvements weren’t as large as they were in 2019. 

One important caveat is that many students didn’t take the MAP test this fall. And those students are “more likely to be Black and brown, more likely to be from high-poverty schools and more likely to have lower performance in the first place,” Tarasawa told NPR.

“While there’s some good news here,” she said in the news release, “we want to stress that not all students are represented in the data, especially from our most marginalized communities.”