October 19, 2020

Study: Pandemic Learning Loss 'Chilling' For Indiana, Other States

Middle school students in a classroom.  - FILE PHOTO/WFYI

Middle school students in a classroom.


An average student in Indiana may have lost the equivalent of more than one year of learning during the pandemic’s first months when school buildings closed, according to one of the first studies projecting the coronavirus' impact on student academics.

The 19-state study found the average student lost between 57 to 183 days of learning in reading and from 136 to 232 days of learning in math. But in Indiana, where a school year is 180 days, the learning loss was higher than average.

Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) based its study on an analysis that projects learning loss, similar to the type of academic decline known as the “summer slide” students face in the months between academic years.

“There is no dispute that the coronavirus pandemic slammed educators and policy makers with a herculean task of pivoting from classroom-based instruction” to virtual and other remote options, Macke Raymond, the director of CREDO, wrote in the study. “At the same time, there is no dispute that the amount and quality of learning that has occurred since school buildings were closed has been deeply inferior.”

Macke, in the report, describes the findings as “chilling” for the amount of learning loss students may have lost and future academic declines due to how schools offer instruction this fall.

CREDO’s study is based on recent years of student test scores for all traditional public and charter schools. Researchers also factored in metrics about each school, such as students’ family income, enrollment of students with special needs and learning English as a second language.

Researchers used this data to estimate the learning loss because current academic data is not available. The U.S. Education Department granted waivers to all states in the spring for academic assessments due to the pandemic.

The Findings

In Indiana, CREDO estimates the average student lost an estimated 209 days in math. That’s more than a full school year. The range of learning loss for students in reading -- based on students' past test scores and school metrics -- is 112 to 406 days.

For reading skills, the average student may have lost 130 days. The range of learning loss for Hoosier students in reading is 4 to 332 days, according to the study.

The vast range in learning loss, Raymond said in an interview with WFYI News, is due to the “huge drift, a huge range in school quality” and other factors such as poverty.

For example, at Indianapolis Public Schools 68 percent of students qualify for free or reduced meals and 21 percent are English language learners. Just north in Hamilton County, the Carmel Clay School District has 10.5 percent of students who qualify for meals and less than 5 percent are learning English.

The Reaction

Hardy Murphy, a clinical professor of educational leadership at Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI, said the study's method appears valid as no current test scores are available.

“It may, in fact, underestimate the amount of learning loss because school closures due to the pandemic may include a traumatic reaction that is not quantifiable with this data,” Murphy said.

Murphy points to impacts not yet measured, such as the lack of internet access for low-income or rural families and general support within a community to aid students.

“Additionally, there will be a difference related to income in the parental supervision and monitoring of distance learning," Murphy told WFYI. "Finally, students from low income backgrounds of color will be more likely to come from homes and communities hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Some have questioned CREDO’s estimates.

Constance Lindsay, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Education, told Chalkbeat it seemed hard to believe that a student lost a year of learning during a few months.

“You lost 180 days. What does that mean — you have to repeat a whole grade?” Lindsay said. “That seems kind of ridiculous.”

The Indiana Department of Education provided data for the study but had not yet absorbed all the findings, spokesman Adam Baker said.

"However, I can say is we are not only aware COVID is affecting student learning, but also this global pandemic is having a distinct effect on different communities," Baker said in a statement. "And while the extent of COVID’s effect has not yet been fully realized, by working closely with teachers, administrators, and parents to provide support, guidance, resources, and even professional development, we look to mitigate any loss of learning and overcome any inequity, so every student has an opportunity for academic success."

Read The Paper

The study Estimates of Learning Loss in the 2019-2020 School Year is available here.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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