The NCSL Blog


By Andrew Barton

Education-focused legislators and staff recently took part in NCSL’s “Assessing Learning Gaps,” part of a three-day virtual meeting series tackling learning gaps and re-engaging students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education webinar NCSL Education Program Director Michelle Exstrom led off the first meeting (March 29) with a discussion of the concerns of policymakers, educators and parents regarding student performance.

A lack of summative assessments from the 2020 academic year has left a gap in knowledge as to where students are in their learning progress. However, periodic interim testing has continued and is providing a framework to identify areas of learning loss among students.

Attendees heard from three researchers who have been examining the current state of learning from the last academic year’s available testing data to form a broad picture of student learning.

Karyn Lewis, senior research scientist at Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), introduced attendees to the initial findings on students’ reading and math achievements and growth. NWEA’s MAP interim assessment, which is administered to 11 million K-12 students in both public and private schools across the U.S., indicated significant reductions in growth in 2020. In math especially, learning progress has been reduced significantly.

Kristin Huff, vice president for assessment and research at Curriculum Associates, discussed what we have learned about unfinished learning. The i-Ready assessment, administered to 9 million children yearly, focused on whether children were performing at grade level.

The percentage of students performing at grade level has decreased significantly in grades one through three in English and grades three through five in math. The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequities for students attending schools in low-income regions and for Black and Latino students.

Caroline Wylie, principal research scientist and director of research at Educational Testing Services, discussed contextual information that could explain the results we have seen. Technology access gaps have played a significant role in exacerbating inequities, as a majority of technology challenges happen in low-income communities.

She, too, highlighted the importance of addressing aid to teachers to support their increased workload. She suggested that extra pay for targeted summer professional learning, reduced class sizes and additional teaching aides to reduce workload might be strategies to support teachers.

The speakers also acknowledged that impacts to students go far beyond academic growth, a topic that was discussed in more depth in the second meeting of the series.

Be sure to check out the recording of this presentation and the speaker’s resource materials on our 2021 Education Virtual Meetings webpage. NCSL will continue to track COVID-related learning gaps and proposed policy solutions to ensure that legislators, and other interested parties, have access to the most up-to-date information. You can find more information and stay up-to-date on NCSL’s COVID-19 education webpage.

Andrew Barton is an intern with NCSL’s Education Program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.