Royal Oak Tribune
National research shows historic setbacks for students across Oakland County
The COVID-19 pandemic caused historic learning setbacks for Oakland County children, erasing decades of academic progress and widening racial disparities, according to national research that provides the first, detailed look by school district.
Through the Education Recovery Scorecard collaborative, researchers at Stanford and Harvard universities have produced a map of learning loss, combining local and national test data to reveal patterns.
In Michigan, students who took the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress or M-STEP math and reading tests, in grades 3-8, saw significant decreases from the 20182019 school year with Black and low-income students falling further behind.
According to Michigan Department of Education data, the M-STEP math and reading test scores across Oakland County declined from the 2018-2019 to 2021-2022 school years and mirrors declines statewide and nationally during the pandemic.
In math, the number of Oakland County students that scored advanced or proficient dropped from 39,104 to 31,858, an 18.5% decrease. In reading, the number of Oakland County students in grades 3-8 that scored advanced or proficient dropped from 44,384 to 39,175, an 11.7% decrease.
In terms of percentage of Oakland County students that
scored advanced or proficient in math and reading, those numbers also dropped significantly countywide, but the level of decline differed district-by-district.
In 2021-2022, around 63% of county students in grade 3-8, on average, scored advanced or proficient in reading compared to 67% in 2018-2019. In math, that percentage dropped from 59% to 51%.
According to this research, not a single state saw an improvement in their average math or reading test scores, with some simply treading water. As a result, state and local education officials are focusing attention on academic recovery strategies and continued efforts to address the teacher shortage.
A team led by Sean Reardon, a Stanford University professor, and Thomas Kane, a professor at Harvard University released a detailed analysis that provides the first clear picture of pandemic learning loss at the school district level.
The Education Recovery Scorecard, published Oct. 28, uses national and local test scores to map changes in student performance over the past three years.
Researchers identified patterns in student performance and the extent of remote learning in each district, as well as trends among racial and economic groups.
Some of the main findings include:
• The most pronounced learning losses were among students in low-income communities and school districts.
• Test scores declined more, on average, in school districts where students were learning remotely than where learning took place in person.
Kane said Oakland County school districts mirrored nationwide results and showed greater math and reading learning loss among districts with higher poverty rates and those with more Black and Hispanic students.
“We are not yet sure why,” he said. “From other research, we know that remote instruction had a larger negative impact in high-poverty schools. Although we don’t have direct evidence on the mechanism, it’s likely some combination of broadband access, the parental occupations and availability of adults to supervise online lessons at home, and COVID infection rates.”
He added that the number of weeks schools remained remote also played a role in the amount of learning loss district-todistrict.
The average U.S. student is about half-a-grade level behind in math and a quarter of a year behind in reading, according to the research.
In Michigan, students in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing districts lost three quarters of a year or more. Oakland County students in Birmingham, South Lyon, Novi, Rochester, Clarkston, and Northville lost much less ground.
Kane, the Harvard professor, added that districts with more than a half-year of learning loss are very unlikely to catch up by Spring 2023 or even Spring 2024, but that students in districts with lesser learning losses could be back to 2019 math and reading levels by Spring 2023.
Reardon, the Stanford professor, said Oakland County school districts need to focus on identifying students most in need of resources to make up for lost ground.
“Districts need to rely on evidence-based strategies like intensive tutoring,” he said. “Given all the ways that the pandemic disrupted the lives of children, their families, and their teachers, it would have been surprising if there were not substantial declines in test scores compared to 2019.”
DeSheil Echols, Pontiac School District assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said the pandemic caused daily and weekly disruptions to the learning environment citing lack of access to district technology and equipment needed to learn and students and staff being quarantined due to COVID-19.
In Pontiac, the number of students scoring advanced or proficient on their M-STEP math test increased from 180 to 203 between 2018-2019 and 20212022. In reading, the number of students who scored advanced or proficient on their M-STEP reading test decreased from 271 to 203.
She said the district is working diligently to increase student resources, including giving K-9 students individual learning plans, teachers providing small group instruction and interventions based on the learning plans, increased after school tutoring, and volunteers helping elementary students master foundational skills for math and reading.
“We’ve adopted a new literacy resource … at early elementary grades to empower our teachers with improving reading success and foundational skills. We also have math and reading interventionists at the elementary schools to support students who are two or more grade levels below their current grade level.”
When it comes to addressing the significant and historic amount of learning loss, Echols said some of the greatest challenges are attracting and retaining qualified teachers and support staff.
“The pandemic was extremely disruptive,” she added. “We have increased tutoring and decreased class sizes in elementary schools to help students rebound. We are also recommending that our new elementary school teachers attend LETRS literacy training, and have seen our (state Great Start Readiness Program) preschool, PEACE Academy, increase enrollment this school year.
Efforts to enroll more preschoolers across the county have increased. These programs provide students with reading and math instruction, engagement, socialization, and academic experiences.
Paul Salah, superintendent of Huron Valley Schools, said the 2022-2023 school year has felt like the most normal since the onset of the pandemic as the district focuses on data and assessment scores to analyze learning gaps and individual student needs.
The number of Huron Valley students who scored advanced or proficient on their M-STEP math test decreased from 1,932 to 1,350 between 2018-2019 and 2021-2022. In reading, students who scored advanced or proficient on their M-STEP reading test decreased from 2,179 to 1,636.
Salah said that reduction in learning time and focus on the physical and mental health and safety of students all contributed to learning loss in the district.
“The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant disruption to society and the world,” he said. “The learning environment is a microcosm of society and thus that disruption carries into schools. While we built entire structures to support online learning in a matter of a few months, nothing replaces face-toface learning with a highly qualified and skilled professional educator.”
To help districts address learning loss, Salah said the state needs to provide greater resources for a sustained period of time, not just one-time funding, to attract and retain people in the profession.