In the years following extended school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, evidence has only grown that American schoolchildren have suffered tremendous learning losses from months spent in online learning. Test scores—and school attendance rates—are still far below pre-pandemic levels. Over the past year, increasing evidence has emerged of just how badly school closures damaged American schoolchildren. Here’s what we learned in 2023. 1. Online learning was linked to lower test scores. According to a study published in June, students who spent more time in online learning were more likely to fail state standardized tests. The study, published in American Economic Review: Insights, examined the results of 11 state tests given to children in grades 3–8. The study found that between 2019 and 2021, pass rates saw substantial declines. On average, pass rates declined 6.8 percentage points for English language arts and 12.8 percentage points for math. However, in-person learning significantly cushioned the decline. “Offering fully in-person learning, rather than fully virtual learning, reduced pass rate losses by approximately 13 percentage points in math and approximately 8 percentage points in,” wrote the study’s authors. 2. Half of American students are now performing below grade level. In May, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) cited a survey that found that, on average, American public schools reported that 49 percent of their students were below grade level in at least one subject area in the beginning of the 2022–23 school year. Before pandemic school closures, schools said that 36 percent of their students were behind on average. The declines hit elementary and middle school students hardest, with schools reporting 14- and 15-point increases in the percentage of students behind a grade level respectively. In contrast, high schools reported only a 9 percent increase in struggling students. 3. School closures accelerated a decline for 13-year-olds. In June, the NCES released new test data indicating that school closures steepened an already existing educational decline among 13-year-olds. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress long-term trend (LTT) test, performance among American 13-year-olds dipped to the lowest point in decades. declines Reading scores were brought to their lowest point since 1975 and math scores to their lowest point since 1990. Student performance had already been modestly declining since 2012. The pandemic appeared to rapidly increase this negative trend. “The ‘green shoots’ of academic recovery that we had hoped to see have not materialized,” NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr said press release in June. “There are signs of risk for a generation of learners in the data we are releasing today and have released over the past year.” 4. Thousands of students still haven’t returned to classrooms. Well after most pandemic-era school closures had ended, thousands of American schoolchildren were still “missing” from classrooms—meaning they weren’t enrolled in local public schools but hadn’t moved to another school district, enrolled in a private school, or began homeschooling. A shocking 230,000 kids were still missing from schools in fall 2021, according to a February data analysis of 21 states. In December, additional data analysis from 22 states found that 50,000 kids were still absent a year later in fall 2022. 5. Learning loss is a global trend. Results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, released in December, show that the United States is far from the only nation whose students have suffered devastating educational declines following the COVID pandemic. In fact, among comparable countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), American students actually performed fairly well. The test measured 15-year-olds’ reading and math skills. And while U.S. math scores still dipped a dramatic 13 points on the test, the average decline among OECD countries was 17 points. And—in contrast with national data suggesting large declines in reading—American students’ reading scores declined a single point, while the OECD average dropped 9 points.

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