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U.S. Elementary Students Fell 4 to 5 Months Behind During Pandemic: Report

(Drazen Zigic/Getty Images)

Elementary school students in the United States fell four to five months behind their expected level of academic achievement during the pandemic, according to a new study.

Researchers from the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. found that K-12 students were testing 10 points behind in math and 9 points behind in reading on average at the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year, compared to years prior.

The report notes that some students fared worse than others: those in majority-black schools ended the year with six months of unfinished learning, while students from low-income schools finished seven months behind.

The discrepancies could be the result of a number of factors, including less access to technology, higher rates of COVID-19 and higher unemployment in low-income communities and communities of color, according to the New York Times. 

The study adds that more time spent in remote education corresponded to worse outcomes: students at rural schools that returned to in-person education more quickly did not fall as far behind as students from more urban schools that relied more heavily upon remote instruction.

Despite growing evidence that students could safely return to the classroom, many schools continued remote instruction as teachers unions fought against a return to in-person learning, oftentimes going against the wishes of students and parents.

The McKinsey analysis was based on assessments taken by more than 1.6 million elementary school students who returned to in-person instruction in the spring.

The authors warn that “unless steps are taken to address unfinished learning, today’s students may earn $49,000 to $61,000 less over their lifetime owing to the impact of the pandemic on their schooling.”

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