National Online Learning Study Predicts Widening Achievement Gap

Successful Practices Network and the Center for College & Career Readiness

These and other findings and recommendations for change were released today in a new study by the Successful Practices Network and the Center for College & Career Readiness. This unique analysis draws its finding from actual usage and performance data for students using Achieve3000 Literacy, an online literacy platform, before and after schools closed on March 11th through April 30th, 2020.

This is the first published study of the current and predicted impact of closures on learning using an actual performance measure before and after U.S. schools closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Based on this analysis, researchers have identified the following trends observed in the data from 1,364 districts:

76% of Schools Showed Decreased Usage After Schools Closed
Schools differed widely in how quickly and how well they made the transition to online learning. Overall, however, the number of students logging in has declined by 43% and the number of students completing at least one lesson has declined by 44%.

Students Are on Track to Lose Up To 49% of Gains Over the Summer
Based on our early data, it appears that school closures as a result of the coronavirus crisis will lead to a significant loss of potential learning gains for many students. This could be as high as 28% for many students by June 2020.

Worst Case Prediction for Widening of the Achievement Gap is 18%
The achievement gap has already begun to grow in the six weeks since schools moved to online learning. The achievement gap between low- and high-income students is expected to increase by as much as 18% for students from low-income schools by the end of this school year.

Struggling Readers Could Fall Behind Their Peers by an Additional 6%
It is already clear that struggling readers are not using online learning as frequently as advanced readers, placing them at risk of falling further behind. The study shows that the gap between struggling and advanced readers is predicted to grow by up to an additional 6% by the end of this school year.

Some Districts Are Succeeding with Online Learning
Despite the challenges, there are success stories. The study revealed many examples of districts that transitioned almost seamlessly between school-based and online instruction. For these districts, levels of usage of Achieve3000 Literacy after the school closures are showing to be on par with usage before the school closures.

“Understanding the variety of learning needs that students have, along with the challenges placed suddenly on their parents, we knew intuitively that the school closures could have real consequences for kids throughout the country,” said Ray McNulty, President of the Successful Practices Network, “and now that we see the data, we are driven even more to empower schools and educators everywhere with multiple solutions needed to ensure kids stay connected and learning, whether they are in school or at home.”

If students can remain engaged in online learning from home with a similar degree of usage and performance as they experienced in school, they are expected to maintain their same rate of projected growth—the blue dotted line. Alternatively, when students’ learning opportunities are cut short, and there are not already robust online learning solutions in place, students will experience significant losses that could have been avoided—the yellow dotted line.

Additional analyses examined the relationship between predicted learning loss for students in low-, middle-, and high-income schools. Based upon data through April 30, the achievement gap is already tracking towards a widening of 4% and could widen by up to 18%.

Kevin Baird, Chairman at the Center for College & Career Readiness noted that “Twenty-four percent of schools continuously engaged students through online learning, moving easily from in-class to at-home instruction. Those students, and those schools, were ready. My concern is for the 76% of schools who were not prepared to switch. The lost learning time for students, and the stress for teachers, will have continued impact into fall 2020 and beyond.”

The consortium provides a number of recommendations for educators based on the trends observed in the study:

Plan Now for Next Year
Many schools were unprepared to make the transition to remote instruction. In order to avoid similar rates of learning loss in future years, schools will want to begin trouble-shooting their existing implementation of online learning tools and resources, and planning for improvements that can be implemented by the start of next school year.

Catch Up Over Summer
The summer slide has already commenced. Using the summer in a meaningful way will be critical to make sure students begin the next school year where they would have been had schools not closed early.

Mind the Gap
Students who fall at or below the 25th percentile in reading are going to fall further behind their peers. Providing access to robust online learning resources that include scaffolds and other supports specifically designed to accelerate reading growth is imperative.

Build a New Skill
Virtual learning is now a career skill that needs to be mastered by both educators and students. We need to transition our thinking from “teaching and learning onsite or remotely” to “a technology-enabled approach to all teaching and learning.”

To view the full research brief, Impact of School Closures on Student Learning, please go here.

About This Research Brief
This research brief is a collaboration between Successful Practices Network, Center for College & Career Readiness, and Achieve3000. The Successful Practices Network (SPN) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing schools the most up-to-date resources and assistance to achieve success by design. The Center for College & Career Readiness is a not-for-profit training and research organization focused on maximizing individual learner engagement through advanced neuroscience research. Achieve3000 is a leading EdTech solutions provider delivering a comprehensive suite of proven effective digital solutions that accelerate literacy and deepen learning across the content areas.

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

Current issue of Equity & Access:

Equity & Access - Issue 28

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