Researchers at NWEA have been using data from their MAP Growth assessments to predict and analyze learning losses since the start of the pandemic. Their most recent brief examines results from reading and math tests administered to approximately 5.5 million public school students during the fall, winter, and spring of the 2020–21 school year.
To measure the impact of the pandemic on academic progress, NWEA researchers compared 2020–21 results to those from the 2018–19 school year, which they identified as a “typical” year. It’s important to note that, based on prior and additional research conducted by NWEA, there are demographic differences “across subjects and grades in the representation of student groups in fall 2020 compared to fall 2019.” For example, researchers found that students of color were more likely to be missing from data gathered during the pandemic. In addition, the majority of fall 2020 MAP Growth assessments were administered remotely. These and other factors indicate that the impacts of the pandemic on the achievement and growth of various student groups could be underestimated.
Given the myriad disruptions of the pandemic, the results aren’t surprising. In math, students entered the 2020–21 school year behind where they would have started during a normal year. They also exhibited academic gains that were, on average, 8 to 12 percentile points behind the gains made during a typical year. The results were better in reading, but only slightly: Students entered 2020–21 at approximately the same level as usual, but ended the year an average of 3 to 6 percentile points behind.
To measure achievement, NWEA uses 2020 MAP growth norms—a nationally representative set of norms based on testing data from 2015–16 through 2017–18—and compares median end-of-year achievement percentile rankings. These rankings can be used to identify how a student’s score in a particular grade and subject area compares to other same-grade students across the country. When compared to the results of a typical year, student achievement in the spring of 2021 was lower in both math and reading in all grade levels. The size of these declines varied by grade and subject level, but was largest in math. For example, the biggest drop in reading results was in third grade, where scores were 6 percentile points lower in spring 2021 than in the spring of 2019. In math, on the other hand, the largest drops were in third and fifth grade, where scores were 12 points lower.
NWEA found that spring achievement declines between 2019 and 2021 were the largest for minority and economically disadvantaged students. In reading, Black and Hispanic students in grades three through five experienced the greatest drops in achievement. These same students experienced the greatest declines in math, but were joined by students who identified as American Indian and Alaskan Natives. To determine pandemic impacts on students living in poverty, NWEA compared the percentile rankings for high-poverty schools (those where more than 75 percent of students experience poverty) and low-poverty schools (those where less than 25 percent of students experience poverty). In low-poverty schools, the percentile point difference in math between spring 2019 and spring 2021 ranged from 6 points lower in fourth grade to 9 points lower in seventh grade. In high-poverty schools, however, the declines were nearly twice as large. The percentile point difference between 2019 and 2021 ranged from 6 points lower in seventh grade to a whopping 17 points lower in third grade.
NWEA closes their brief by offering six overarching recommendations for how state, district, and local leaders can use achievement and growth data—as well as the unprecedented amounts of federal relief funding that’s available—to reshape education to better serve all students. These recommendations include re-engaging students in school (especially those who have been historically underserved); continuing to support access to remote learning; meeting the physical, social, and mental health needs of students and families; measuring student progress, rethinking assessment systems, and using data to support recovery efforts; supporting and training teachers and leaders; and reimagining accountability and school improvement systems. These are complex recommendations, but NWEA offers plenty of detail about how to implement them effectively. State and local leaders would be wise to consider them.
SOURCE: “Informing Covid-19 recovery: Insights from NWEA’s MAP Growth assessment and policy recommendations,” NWEA (July 2021).