Academically Speaking, the 'COVID Slide' Could Be a Lot Worse Than You Think

Mar 25, 2021 | Long Beach Bixby Knolls

Education leaders are already bracing for a worse "summer slide" this year for students whose schools were shut down to curb the spread of coronavirus. But new research suggests the so-called coronavirus or "COVID slide" is going to be significantly worse.

In one study out today, Beth Tarasawa and Megan Kuhfeld, researchers for NWEA, the Northwest Evaluation Association, analyzed student achievement and growth data from more than 5 million students in grades 3-8 who participated in NWEA's widely used MAP-Growth test in 2017-18. The researchers used the data to project growth trajectories for the students under two scenarios: a "melt," in which students basically gained no ground during the school closures; and a "slide," in which students lost ground academically during the closures at rates similar to those seen over the long summer break. The researchers did not include potential effects of direct instruction during the school closures, which they set as running from March 15 until next fall.

With the projections, the NWEA researchers hope to do for education what an Imperial College, London, the study did for coronavirus infections: show the potential severity of the consequences if people do not act to mitigate the threat.

Prior research on summer learning loss has found students can lose somewhere from two weeks to two months of academic growth over the summer. But NWEA's projections suggest learning loss related to these closures would be anything but typical: If students return to school campuses in the fall without continuity of instruction during the closures, they could have retained only about 70 percent of their reading progress, compared to a normal year.