Research brief

Learning during COVID-19: Initial findings on students’ reading and math achievement and growth

November 2020

By: Megan Kuhfeld, Beth Tarasawa, Angela Johnson, Erik Ruzek, Karyn Lewis


Using data from nearly 4.4 million students in grades 3-8 who took MAP Growth assessments in fall 2020, this research presents key findings and actionable takeaways from analyses of how school shutdowns impacted student academic achievement and growth at the start of the 2020-21 school year. The research focuses on three questions: 1. How did students perform in fall 2020 relative to a typical school year (specifically, fall 2019)? 2. How has student growth changed since schools physically closed in March 2020? 3. How did observed fall 2020 achievement compare to NWEA’s projected scenarios? The results show in almost all grades, most students made some learning gains in both reading and math since the COVID-19 pandemic started. However, in math: student achievement in fall 2020 was 5 to 10 percentile points lower than the pre-COVID-19 performance by same-grade students, and students showed lower growth in math across grades 3 to 8 relative to peers in the previous, more typical year, resulting in more students falling behind relative to their prior standing. Systematic demographic differences in available assessment data suggest the impacts of COVID-19 on achievement for the most vulnerable students may be underestimated. Educational leaders should carefully consider the demographic shift in the students tested as well as other contextual data as they make decisions on how to best support their students’ growth and recovery.

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