Research brief

COVID-19 in the early elementary years: A comparison of achievement in spring 2019 and spring 2022

October 2022

By: Megan Kuhfeld, Karyn Lewis


While the ongoing academic impacts of the COVID pandemic in grades 3–8 has been well documented, far less is known about its effects on students who were in pre-K or kindergarten when the pandemic started in March 2020. In this brief, we focus on students who were in first and second grade in the 2021–22 school year, and for whom the majority of school experiences have occurred since the onset of the pandemic. Using MAP Growth data from 1.6 million students in grades 1–2 who took assessments in reading and math in approximately 11,000 public schools in 2021–22 and a roughly equivalent sample of students who tested in those same grades in 2018–19, we found that reading and math achievement in first and second grade remains substantially lower in spring 2022 relative to historical data, especially for historically marginalized and economically disadvantaged students. While second-grade to fifth-grade students showed mostly parallel growth trends in 2021–22 relative to a pre-pandemic year, students in first grade, who have only experienced pandemic schooling, showed 6-7% lower growth. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that the impact of the pandemic is not limited to the students for whom “normal” was turned on its head following the onset of COVID-19. Even students who have only ever known schooling during the pandemic era have been impacted. These results highlight the need for targeted investments in early literacy and math programs to ensure that our youngest students can develop these essential skills.

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