Learning loss refers to the decline in K-12 student academic achievement during the Covid-19 pandemic. By 2022, student achievement was significantly below pre-pandemic levels. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed that two decades worth of growth in reading and math had been wiped out in two years.
While declines were seen throughout the nation and across demographics, not all students were affected equally. Students who remained at home for remote learning suffered more learning loss than students who returned to the classroom for in-person learning. Students from high-poverty backgrounds had steeper declines than students from middle-class and affluent backgrounds. Black and Hispanic students fared worse than White students. Students who were already below grade level had twice the amount of learning loss as students at or above grade level.
Likewise, the recovery from learning loss is uneven, with Asian American and White students growing at faster rates than their Black and Hispanic peers. Younger students seem to be catching up faster than students in high school. Research also suggests that students who receive more instructional time are more likely to recover from learning loss.
While learning loss seems to have the strongest correlation with the amount of time spent in remote learning, researchers are still analyzing its causes and complexities.
Our view on learning loss
Learning loss was largely the result of poor policy during the pandemic. Most students were not at a high risk from Covid, meaning they could have returned to school with some precautions. However, resistance from political leaders and teachers’ unions stalled this return. Also, many parents worried that schools would not be able to ensure the health and safety of their children if they attended in-person classes.
Addressing learning loss is the education policy challenge of our time, requiring an “all hands on deck” response from teachers, families, and politicians. High quality instructional materials must be used in the classroom. High dosage tutoring must be available for students who are behind. Extending the school day—as well as the school year—can help make up for lost instruction time. States should use the billions of dollars they have received from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program to fund these initiatives.
Without serious and intensive intervention, it will take years for American students to recover from pandemic-era learning loss.
- Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
- “Will pandemic learning loss cost $700 billion to fix?” —Nat Malkus
- “Instructional time lost to Covid will likely mean persistent and widening gaps in literacy” —Robert Pondiscio
- “Kids Are Far, Far Behind in School” —Tom Kane
- “Remote learning likely widened racial, economic achievement gap” —Harvard Gazette