Mississippi students have lost three-quarters of a school year in math instruction since the start of the pandemic, according to a new report released last week.
The Education Recovery Scorecard, produced by researchers at Harvard and Stanford, looks at learning loss at the district level across the country using a combination of state and national test scores.
Every state is required to administer annual standardized tests, but the results cannot be easily compared because they are not required to test for the same content or use the same grading scale. To prepare the report, researchers took state test data from 29 states and standardized the scoring systems using the results from the 2022 National Assessment for Educational Progress.
The report measured learning loss in terms of the percentage of a school year that students are behind, compared to the amount of learning that would typically occur during a single school year.
Nationally, the study found the average student lost the equivalent of half a year of math instruction and a quarter of a year in reading. In Mississippi, it was three-quarters of a year of math instruction and a quarter of a year in reading.
Thomas Kane, director of the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research, said the goal was to give educators and parents nationally comparable information about learning loss in their local district.
The interactive graphs in the report show no districts in Mississippi surpassed their 2019 performance in math or reading, but the severity of achievement loss varied widely by district.
“This is a large increase in educational inequity,” Kane said in reference to the graph of changes in math achievement in Mississippi. “It’s not just saying ‘High poverty districts have always scored lower than low poverty districts.’ This is saying that those gaps, which existed in 2019, have gotten a lot wider.”
He added most states saw this pattern, but varied in the degree to which they widened.
Since 90% of federal pandemic relief funds are being spent at the district level, Kane said it was important to have high quality district-level data to inform those spending decisions.
“What we hope is that states and districts will use these data to revisit their recovery plans,” Kane said. “The districts that lost more than a year’s worth of instruction should be thinking ‘Do we have enough tutoring, double doses of math instruction, (and) summer school to make up for these losses?’”
The magnitude of federal recovery dollars currently available gives him hope that these learning losses can be adequately addressed, Kane said, if districts are willing to make adjustments now that they know the full scope of their losses.
Kane added that these results should be alarming not just for educators, but for mayors and community organizations that can also play a role in helping students catch up. He pointed out that the learning losses are likely not the result exclusively of what happened in schools, but of many other community factors like broadband connectivity, hospitalization rates, and whether parents were able to work from home.
“It won’t be just what schools do or don’t do that determine whether or not Mississippi students catch up,” he said.