Kids Progressing Even Slower In Reading, Math Now Than Before Pandemic, New Study Shows

"Significant achievement gaps persist."
A girl wears a face mask as students sit in a classroom of the Petri primary school in Dortmund, western Germany, on June 15, 2020 amid the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - From June 15, 2020, all children of primary school age in the western federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia will once again be attending regular daily classes until the summer holidays. The distance rules and compulsory mouthguards are no longer applicable. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP) (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

Students are making even slower academic progress now than before the pandemic, a new study released Tuesday shows, dashing hopes that kids would learn faster to make up for learning loss during COVID.

In fourth through eighth grade, students showed slower academic progress in reading and math in 2022 than pre-pandemic, according to a new study from NWEA, a research group that creates widely used academic assessments.

NWEA analyzed their assessment results from about 6.7 million public school students in third through eighth grade at about 20,000 public schools nationwide. They calculated the change in test scores between last fall and this spring, compared to the typical progress rate before COVID.

Third graders were the only group that showed greater gains in reading and math than before the pandemic, with 4% in reading and 2% in math.

Fourth and fifth graders showed slower progress. Fourth graders had a 1% drop in reading gains and a 7% drop in math gains. Fifth graders had an 8% drop in reading gains and fared the worst in math with a 15% drop in math gains.

Kids in grades six through eight struggled the most to advance. Sixth graders fared the worst in reading, with a 19% drop in reading gains and a 6% drop in math gains. Seventh graders had a 16% drop in reading gains and a 10% drop in math gains. Eight graders also did poorly in reading, with an 18% drop in reading gains and a 7% drop in math gains.

The study concluded that “significant achievement gaps persist” at the end of this school year, now several years after the government shuttered schools and kids struggled to adapt to remote learning.

“The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to reverberate through the American school system three years after the COVID-19 virus closed the vast majority of public schools in spring 2020,” the study said.

“We are actually seeing evidence of backsliding,” said Karyn Lewis, one of the study’s lead researchers.

“This isn’t news anybody wanted to hear,” she said.

Students would need an average of four and a half months of extra math instruction and just over four months of additional reading instruction to catch up to the typical pre-COVID student, the study estimated.

It also found that achievement gains lagged across races, but minority students’ progress suffered the most.

Black students had the most sluggish gains in math and were about on par with Hispanic students for reading progress, although black students started at a lower point for both subjects. White students’ progress in both subjects dropped close to the national average, while Asian students slowed down the least and remained well above the national average.


The study authors warned: “The scale of the crisis and its repercussions on students’ academic progress surpass what can be fully addressed with the current response.”

“While schools are taking steps in the right direction, the reality is that the depth and breadth of the crisis demands an even more comprehensive, intensive, and sustainable approach if we are to truly mitigate the long-lasting impacts of the pandemic on students,” the study authors said.

The slow academic progress continues despite the federal government spending billions of dollars on pandemic recovery for schools, in part to help kids make up for learning loss.

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