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Georgia State study finds Atlanta students lost months of progress in pandemic

Some cohorts were found to have lost the equivalent of seven months or more in areas like reading and math.

A Georgia State study released this week found substantial learning losses among metro Atlanta students during the pandemic, with some cohorts losing the equivalent of seven months or more in areas like reading and math.

The study, conducted by Georgia State University’s Metro Atlanta Policy Lab for Education, looked at achievement growth levels in Grades 4-8 across three different metro Atlanta school districts, which were not specifically named.

The effect was more pronounced with students who were eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals, which the study's author used as an approximation for lower-income backgrounds.

RELATED: 'We can’t do this all at once in one year': Metro Atlanta school districts work to address learning loss

The study measured where students' achievement levels were at relative to a normal school year.

"For example, a value of –3 months indicates that a student is nearly one-third of a 9.5-month school year behind where they would normally be—had the pandemic not occurred," it states. 

At the extreme end, eighth graders in one district were seven months behind typical math achievement for the 2020-21 winter semester, while in another district seventh and eighth graders were both more than seven months behind typical reading achievement levels.

"A negative value does not imply a reduction in knowledge; rather, it signals that achievement growth has slowed," the study's author cautioned. "Moreover, the change in achievement captures everything that happened to a student during this period that could have affected their learning, much of which is beyond the control of schools."

The study provided five recommendations for how to get students back on track:

  • Differential supports and interventions based on each student’s achievement growth; 
  • High-dosage, small-group tutoring for students who have incurred the most significant impacts; 
  • Learning opportunities during the summer and other breaks that are targeted toward students whose learning growth has been significantly diminished, tied to classroom content, and provide strong incentives for participation; 
  • Extended learning time during the school day that is tailored toward student needs; and 
  • 5. Robust data systems that track who is offered additional learning opportunities, the extent of participation, and student achievement to determine the efficacy of the interventions and to make any necessary midcourse adjustments

“The results clearly show the pandemic has had significant negative effects on students’ lives, including their academic achievement, with some students being more severely affected than others,” study author Tim Sass told Georgia State's website. “The good news is that our district partners are actively using these results and recommendations to inform long-term response plans.”

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