Data suggests learning loss less than was feared amid pandemic

Report shows math assessments between five and 10 percent less than Fall 2019.
Joplin School District

JOPLIN/NEOSHO, Mo. – From shutdowns and quick shifts to remote learning in the spring to changes to the school day in the fall, this year has been filled with disruptions for students.

Disruptions that many worried would cause learning loss in schools. But local and nationwide data suggests the losses are less than many feared.

“We did find that we’re about three percent lower this fall to last fall in reading. And we’re about ten percent lower in math,” says Dr. Melinda Moss, Superintendent of Joplin School District. “And that’s across the district. We’ve seen the lowest impact with our lower grades. And then that washed out a bit as we got in our older grade levels.”

That’s a trend nationwide as well. NWEA, a national non-profit that specializes in K-12 student assessments, looked at MAP testing in 3rd through 8th grade from fall 2019 and fall 2020 to compare how students are doing this year. After looking at data from 4.4 million students, they estimate that students performed similarly in reading as students in the same grade level in 2019. They also noticed a five to 10 percent decrease in math for the same period.

Researchers note in the study, “While caution and care are needed in understanding what the data can tell us at this time, initial analyses comparing test results from fall 2020 to test results in fall 2019 suggest reasons for both optimism and concern—and a need for action.”

Moss says now that they have data, they can start working with students who are falling behind.

“We analyze the data on each student, and depending on the area that they need help with… maybe it’s algebraic thinking, maybe it’s vocabulary, we have interventions designed for each of those students,” says Moss.

Officials with the Neosho School District say they have also seen a loss in learning. But, like in Joplin, it’s not as steep as they originally thought.

“We were concerned that it would be up to six to nine months of learning loss based off sometimes what happens in the summer. But, while there was still learning loss, it wasn’t as substantial as we thought it would have been,” says Nathan Manley, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum for Neosho School District.

The district did an assessment in September, right before the start of the fall semester. But, they can’t compare that data to the data collected in the fall of 2019, because they recently changed their assessment system.

“And so to be able to compare this assessment to last year would be apples and oranges,” says Manley.

Manley says they plan to do an assessment next week so that they can do that comparison and get some hard numbers. Joplin is currently doing their own winter assessment, so they can keep a close eye on how well students are learning.

“What every district in Missouri is trying to mine out of that data is how do we accelerate student growth?” says Moss. “Because in the end, we don’t want them to have that learning loss.”

NWEA also notes in the study that their data may not capture a large number of students, saying that many schools chose not to administer testing due to technological shortcomings, especially for students who are learning remotely.

“The most concerning scenario is that students not testing in fall 2020 are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds. Not accounting for these students would produce underestimated learning loss and achievement gaps, potentially resulting in under-provision of support and services to the neediest students.”

You can read the full study here: