Research can now estimate the size of the learning loss students have experienced under such conditions. Because regular standardized testing has been suspended, some of the research uses past disruptions to learning — such as natural disasters or even summer break — to project the potential impact of the current crisis. Other studies look at schools that used online learning software before the coronavirus shutdown, and check to see how students performed using the same programs from home.
The average student could begin the next school year having lost as much as a third of the expected progress from the previous year in reading and half of the expected progress in math, according to a working paper from NWEA, a nonprofit organization, and scholars at Brown University and the University of Virginia.
A separate analysis of 800,000 students from researchers at Brown and Harvard looked at how Zearn, an online math program, was used both before and after schools closed in March. It found that through late April, student progress in math decreased by about half in classrooms located in low-income ZIP codes, by a third in classrooms in middle-income ZIP codes and not at all in classrooms in high-income ZIP codes.
When all of the impacts are taken into account, the average student could fall seven months behind academically, while black and Hispanic students could experience even greater learning losses, equivalent to 10 months for black children and nine months for Latinos, according to an analysis from McKinsey & Company, the consulting group.
There are several reasons low-income, black and Hispanic students appear to be suffering the most through the crisis. The Center on Reinventing Public Education, a think tank, will release an analysis next week of the pandemic learning policies of 477 school districts. It found that only a fifth have required live teaching over video, and that wealthy school districts were twice as likely to provide such teaching as low-income districts.
Rural students have been especially cut off from their teachers. Only 27 percent of their districts required any instruction while schools were closed, according to the center.
While almost every school has provided assignments for students to complete independently, that does not necessarily mean that teachers conducted remote lessons. Schools with many poor students sometimes chose to relax instructional expectations on teachers because they knew families did not have reliable access to home computers or internet connections able to stream video.