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MSU report finds pandemic negatively affected Michigan K-8 student learning

January 18, 2022
<p>Then-senior Johnny Mocny studies on his computer during a break at work on Sept. 2, 2020.</p>

Then-senior Johnny Mocny studies on his computer during a break at work on Sept. 2, 2020.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

A new Michigan State University report is providing insight on the effects of the pandemic on Michigan students.

The report is based on new data collection and reporting requirements set by the Michigan Legislature for local school districts beginning in the 2020-21 school year. It is the second in a series of reports intended to provide insight into how Michigan students’ have fared so far in learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new report analyzed patterns in benchmark assessment and M-STEP results across groups of students and discovered lags in achievement growth were greater for female, Black, low-income students and students who learned remotely for more of the school year.

It also found, on average, students made less learning progress in the 2020-21 school year.

“Our results show us that Michigan students were learning throughout the school year,” EPIC Assistant Director for Research and one of the authors of the new report Tara Kilbride said, “But, at a slower rate than what we would expect during a typical year before the pandemic, and this is a pattern that we saw really consistently across all groups of students, but the extent of this varied quite a bit.”

Black, Latino and low-income students were more likely to start and end the year significantly behind grade level, according to the report. These patterns are generally consistent across grade levels, subjects and test providers.

Additionally, many pre-existing achievement gaps grew wider over the 2020-21 school year.

Gaps in the percentage of students who are significantly behind grade level and gaps in average test scores grew during the school year for Black and Latino students, compared to white students, for low-income students, compared to students from higher-income households and for special education students, compared to general education students.

The report also found the type of learning offered by districts had an impact on student learning. 

“Remote learning looked very different in different places,” Kilbride said. “Not all students have the same access to technology and reliable internet. Not all districts have the same capacity to deliver instruction remotely in ways that work well for students. By and large, we know that remote instruction just isn’t an equal substitute for in-person instruction.”

Districts that offered in-person instruction fared better than those that were remote. The report data shows districts offering an additional month of remote schooling had nearly one percentage point more of students scoring significantly behind grade level on math assessments by spring 2021, whereas an additional month of in-person schooling was associated with one-half percentage point fewer of students scoring significantly behind grade level on reading assessments. 

A factor that could have affected the report is students completing benchmark assessments were more likely to be white and less likely to be low-income or eligible for special education or English learner services, compared to the overall population of Michigan students.

Additionally, most remote students did not take the M-STEP, only participating in benchmark assessments where they could have had assistance from a caregiver. 

This new MSU report is consistent with findings from a U.S. Department of Education report, which found the pandemic, and remote learning, have negatively impacted student learning and deepened educational disparities. 

“It’s quite concerning when we think about equity and growing achievement gaps,” Kilbride said. “These were problems before the pandemic that are just now getting worse. So, hopefully, our report can help policymakers, districts think about where best to target resources when we’re trying to recover from the pandemic and help students move forward after a challenging couple of years.”

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