How COVID Stunted Students
COVID-19 has not only taken lives and changed the way we live, but has also led to a significant decline in the education of students across the US. It’s time to examine the factors that led to test scores plummeting and the disparate impacts on marginalized students.
November 27, 2022
With the chore of staring at a screen for hours upon hours, online school was hard enough on students—but the toll COVID-19 took on them is much worse than plain boredom. Declining grades and test scores reflect how the educational journeys of many were stunted by the global pandemic.
Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress across all 50 states shows that the pandemic years brought the steepest declines in math scores ever reported. Reading scores also showed a downward trend; now, only about one in three students meet the standard of “proficiency,” a designation given to students who are on track for future success.
The cause for this drop was primarily the decline of time and availability for teaching produced by online learning. With the barriers a virtual classroom unintentionally creates, 85% of school districts expected their students to receive less than four hours of “instructional time”—time teachers spend actively teaching—during May 2020. And though many teachers valiantly fought for a sense of normality during a difficult period, there were inevitable difficulties for many students within their homes. Those who live in poor conditions or lack financial support were especially disadvantaged in receiving the expected education.
According to a study done by the consulting group McKinsey and Company, students during this time “learned only 67 percent of the math and 87 percent of the reading that grade-level peers would typically have learned.” This would translate into a three-month loss in learning math and one-and-a-half months in reading.
Another critical factor that contributed to the decline of academic achievement is the toll of Covid-induced isolation on the mental health of students. The isolation—and in many cases, grief—that Covid brought harmed the emotional wellbeing of many. A survey done in 2021 revealed that 30% of parents reported their children experiencing this mental health decline. With the rise of suicidal ideation, many schools found themselves unable to provide the necessary support and health needs students required. Thus, the mental health problems brought on by Covid—many of which are still prevalent today—continued to impact education extensively.
And although all students suffered learning loss because of Covid, some experienced more than others, as a result of racial and economic disparities in society. Before the pandemic, students of color had already experienced disparities in their academic achievement: Black students accounted for 14.2% of all public high schooler seniors in 2020, yet only for 8.3% of AP students nationwide. Because Covid-19 caused a larger percentage of Black and Latinx adults to lose their jobs and face a higher risk of contracting the virus, students were more likely to be affected by the instability and grief within their households.
Furthermore, according to a survey done by RAND Corporation, a third of the teachers in majority black schools reported that their students did not have the necessary technology in order to continue their education. However, in schools where less than 10% of students were black, only one in five teachers reported the same. While white students are estimated to have lost 1-3 months of learning, students of color may have lost 3-5 months.
Now that the worst of the pandemic seems to have passed, the devastating outcomes have become increasingly clear, and there have been calls for action to fix what has been broken.