ATLANTA—Two years into the pandemic, new research by Georgia State University’s Georgia Policy Labs (GPL) shows that many K-12 students who experienced lower achievement growth before the pandemic have been the slowest to recover.
Across three large metro Atlanta school districts, including Fulton County Schools and Clayton County Public Schools, pre-existing disparities have widened. While some of the differences had been shrinking before the pandemic, many of those gains have since disappeared.
Tim Sass, a GPL faculty director who has studied the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ learning in metro Atlanta since its onset, and Thomas Goldring, director of research, show in their latest report that the pandemic’s impact on student achievement growth has been greater in math than in reading. Reading scores rebounded more than those in math once students returned to classrooms.
Students who were in elementary school when the pandemic hit fared worse than those who were in middle school. Students in two grades showed math declines of over 15 percentile points in national rankings between fall 2019 and fall 2021.
Many students have started to recover academically, but improvement is uneven.
“We found differences in achievement trends by geography and by economic status within at least one district and by race and ethnicity within multiple districts,” Sass said. “The pandemic undid much of the progress schools and communities had made pre-COVID to reduce historic disparities.”
Recovery will require targeted strategies and the rapid evaluation of recovery and acceleration efforts to ensure their effectiveness. Strategies suggested include high-intensity, small-group tutoring, extended learning time, and summer academic learning programs focused on students who experienced the greatest declines compared to national rankings and have been the slowest to recover. These strategies are most effective when offered during the school day, the authors emphasize. Frequent participation, including incentives or mandatory attendance, may be needed.
“Students who were already below national averages are, in many cases, worse off now,” said Maggie Reeves, senior director of the Georgia Policy Labs. “We strongly encourage the use of federal funds and targeted planning to ensure we do not accept these widening disparities.”
The Georgia Policy Labs will continue to update this research and provide rapid information on student achievement growth impacts and how they vary across students, as well as evaluations of districts' efforts to improve recovery strategies and use available resources most efficiently.
To learn more, download “Student Achievement Growth During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Fall 2021 Update,” at https://gpl.gsu.edu/publications/student-achievement-growth-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-fall-2021-update/.
Distinguished University Professor and Faculty Director,
Metro Atlanta Policy Lab for Education, Georgia Policy Labs
Tim Sass is an applied micro-economist whose research focuses on the economics of education. Specific areas of interest include teacher labor supply, the measurement of teacher quality and school choice. He holds the W.J. Usery Chair of the American Workplace. His work has been published in numerous academic journals, including the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Public Economics, Journal of Labor Economics and Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. His research has been supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. He has acted as a consultant to school systems, is a senior researcher at the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) and serves on the editorial board of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
Director of Research
Georgia Policy Labs
Thomas Goldring supports the faculty directors in managing research projects and providing analytical and technical support across the Georgia Policy Labs' three component parts. He has researched issues in K-12 education, including educational accountability, school finance and graduation rates; career and technical education; postsecondary education; and health care.