COVID Effect: Students’ academic proficiency down 12%

And, even worse in math.

A recent working paper published in the NBER attempts to calibrate how much learning was “lost” when schools were shuttered and classes went virtual.

Analyzing standardized test data from 3rd through 8th graders in 12 states, researchers concluded that overall academic proficiency (i.e. considering both math and ELA) declined just under 12% from pre-pandemic levels


My take:

> Surprising (to me): Only a slim majority of students were scoring as “proficient” before the pandemic, now, less that than a majority are proficient.

> That said, there are wide variations by state in both proficiency levels (ranging from 33.7% in WI to 67.1% in VA) and in pandemic-related drop-offs (from 2.2% percentage points in WY to 9 p.p. in VA) … the latter of which the researchers attribute the degree of in person vs. online schooling during the pandemic.

> Note that the state that scored highest in proficiency in 2019 (VA @ 76.1%) kept its lead in 2021 (67.1%) despite having the biggest drop (down 9 percentage points). The researchers point out that, of the 12 states studied, Virginia offered the least amount of in-person instruction during the pandemic.

> In comparison, Florida and Wyoming – 2 states that were almost entirely in person — dropped only 4.8 and 2.2 percentage points, respectively.



> The researchers found that the percentage of students who scored “proficient” in language arts (ELA) declined in spring 2021 by an average of 6.3 percentage points

> The ELA drop-offs are tightly banded for the 12 states with a slight positive correlation for in person schooling … for example, note that the 2 “fully in person” states – WY and FL – have the shallowest declines.




> In math, the researchers found that the percentage of students who scored “proficient” declined in spring 2021 by an average of 14.4 percentage points .

> Outboarding the precipitous 31.9 percentage point drop in VA, as with ELA, there appears to be a correlation … with in person schooling dampening the drop … and, the 2 “fully in person” states – WY and FL – among the shallowest declines.



Bottom line

> Only half of 3rd to 8th graders are “proficient” in math and ELA … that’s scary in itself!

> The 12 percentage point drop in test scores is, shall we say, “statistically significant … and the researchers note that they think their methodology understates the drop-off

> As usual, the most dismal scores came in math … there’s low likelihood that they’ll improve if equity math with no right methods & no right answers takes hold.

> Virginia: No wonder that education-oriented parents were up in arms during the VA gubernatorial election.

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