Learning Losses Due to COVID

By now, enough time has passed since the onset of the pandemic that people are starting to look back and discuss the impacts that COVID-19 policies have had on various life aspects. Here at One-Room Education, we are committed to staying up-to-date on the impact of the pandemic policies on education. 

In previous articles on One-Room Education, we discussed the change in reading levels, the impact on student’s speech and language skills, and social impacts of various COVID policies. Today we are going to take a look at students’ overall academic progress since the start of the pandemic. 

Have pandemic policies impacted students’ overall academic skills? If so, are parents aware of these impacts? What is being done to help students, and how long will it take them to “catch up”?

Learning Gaps

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused historic learning setbacks for America’s children.” (Binkley, Collin)

A nationwide study was recently conducted to show the impact of the pandemic on learning. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is known as the “nation’s report card,” assessed fourth and eighth grade students across the nation between January and March of 2022 for the first time since 2019.

The results of this assessment are concerning. No states demonstrated any improvements in their test scores. Overall, reading scores dropped to what they were in 1992, and math scores showed their largest decrease ever. 

Math scores on this study showed an 8 point drop overall. A decrease of this size has never before been seen on this assessment.


What do these results tell us? According to Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Educational Statistics, a 1-2 point decline indicates a significant impact on a student’s academic achievement, and a 10 point drop or gain equals about a year’s worth of learning. Math scores on this study showed an 8 point drop overall. A decrease of this size has never before been seen on this assessment. Several school districts experienced drops greater than 10 points. 

“These results are not acceptable.” Michael Cardona (Education Secretary)

These findings are confirmed by other studies. A January 2022 study conducted by the Annenburg Institute at Brown University showed similar drops in math and reading test scores. “For context, the math drops are significantly larger than estimated impacts from other large-scale school disruptions, such as after Hurricane Katrina.” (Kuhfeld, et al)

Academic achievement was shown to drop more from 2020 to 2021 than from 2019 to 2020. This indicates ongoing negative impacts to students beyond the initial 2020 school closures. 


Although one might think that students and school districts who continued with virtual learning for the longest period of time experienced the biggest setbacks, that is not necessarily the case. Students who returned relatively quickly to attending school in-person still experienced significant academic decline. 

As always, we shouldn’t give too much weight to standardized test scores since they don’t show the whole picture. However, these exams do assess key academic skills in students that are indicators of future success. For more information on this topic, see our article on the pros and cons of Standardized testing.

Full Disclosure

These academic decreases are often not being shared with parents and families. This was indicated by Learning Heroes, a national nonprofit, who conducted a spring survey. The survey found that “the majority of parents believed their children were performing at or above their grade level in math and reading.”

multiethnic students listening lecturer in university

Although parents aren’t always aware of these learning gaps, they want to know. Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, puts it this way: “There’s a myth that parents just don’t want to know. That the country just wants to get back to normal. But parents are very concerned.” (Binkley, Collin)

As a parent, you have the right to know how your child is performing in school. A parent advocacy group in Nashville is working to encourage school districts to share information, as well as share the plans schools are implementing to help students reduce these learning gaps. 

Moving Forward

Where does this leave us? Clearly, we have a lot of work to do. Teachers and school districts nationwide are doing their best to clean up the mess of the past 3 years. This will not be a simple process. Important decisions need to be made as states consider which interventions and programs to implement in order to make up the learning losses. These may include summer school, tutoring, extended school days, and before and/or after school programs.

When comparing these remediation options, some research has been conducted to show which are most effective. Tutoring has been found to work best in the younger grades when provided by a teacher versus a parent. However, the intensity of tutoring needed (full time tutors available to all students in a one-on-one setting) to produce the needed results are often expensive. 

woman in red shirt holding pen writing on white paper

Along with results seen from implementing summer reading programs and class size reduction, the impact of tutoring experienced in pre-pandemic years cannot necessarily be applied to the current time. Earlier studies were not conducted under the current conditions and challenges. In addition, these interventions would need to be implemented at a much grander scale than ever before due to the nationwide impact. 

There needs to be studies and feedback gathered on the effects of implemented interventions in the coming years. This will show districts what is working and allow any adjustments to be made. A couple large-scale studies are currently underway: The Road to COVID Recovery project and the National Student Support Accelerator. These evaluation studies also offer resources to districts for monitoring progress in their own programs. 

Keep in mind that these studies and plans do not take into account the students who will already be aged out of school. These students will not benefit from these programs.  Although these studies may eventually lead to helpful information in the long term, every year we study is a year of a child’s learning potential lost.

Keep Hope Alive

Don’t lose hope! While all this talk of decreasing test scores can seem bleak, this is an opportunity for teachers and schools to reevaluate methods that may need to be changed, which may benefit students in ways that stretch beyond the impacts of the pandemic. 

This is also in no way a reflection on teachers or parents who have acted as teachers and tutors at some point over the past few years. Those of you who are teachers know the challenges you deal with, even without the difficulty of a pandemic. Teachers and parents had to find ways to face the unique challenges of the COVID policies that were outside of their control. Both teachers and parents are dedicated to helping their students and children recover from these learning losses. 

“From our perspective, these test-score drops in no way indicate that these students represent a “lost generation” or that we should give up hope. Most of us have never lived through a pandemic, and there is so much we don’t know about students’ capacity for resiliency in these circumstances and what a timeline for recovery will look like.” (Kuhfeld, et al)

If you are a teacher or parent, weigh in! What are the plans in your district for remediating the learning losses experienced as a result of the COVID policies? How is your district implementing them? Have you been told of the school’s plans? We would love to hear your thoughts.

We will continue to keep you informed on this subject as it evolves. Subscribe to the blog to follow along as we continue to share updates on the impact of the pandemic on academic progress and other areas of education. 

girl in old fashioned dress standing in library holding books


  • Kuhfeld, Megan, Soland, James, & Lewis, Karyn. “Test Score Patterns Across Three COVID-19-impacted School Years.” EdWorkingPaper: 22-521, January 2022. Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University: https://doi.org/10.26300/ga82-6v47 


All One-Room Education content is sponsored by YOU.

Help One-Room Education spread the message of freedom and prosperity for all.

Find all the ways that you can support One-Room Education by clicking the button below.

Remember, sharing is caring 🙂

Share this content on social media or via email with the people you know who would love it to help us spread the word and encourage them to work towards a more free and prosperous future for everyone.

Don’t forget to sign up to receive notifications straight to your inbox whenever new content is posted

Get new One-Room Education content straight to your inbox.

Leave a Reply