Learn4Life is a partnership of eight metro school systems, businesses and nonprofits working to improve student achievement. It teamed up with the nonprofit organization RedefinED Atlanta to commission the recent study by EmpowerK12, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that does educational research and data analysis.
Those involved in the effort said it’s the first attempt in Georgia to quantify the impact from the coronavirus closures. Meghan Frick, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Education, said she’s not aware of any similar studies.
The report looked at the impact of previous school closures caused by hurricanes Harvey and Katrina and the learning loss students experience during summer months when school is not in session. It also examined how attendance impacts state test scores.
The state canceled those tests this year because of the virus. But researchers said conservative estimates indicate that the percentage of third through eighth grade metro Atlanta students deemed proficient on the English language arts test would have dropped from 46.4% in 2019 to 42.8% this year, or a 3.6 percentage point decline. The study estimates an even bigger drop in math of 4.9 percentage points.
Experts said school districts should pay close attention to the impact on low-income and black and Hispanic students, who already lagged behind before the pandemic.
They recommend assessing students when school resumes in August to gauge where they are academically so that teachers can tailor lessons to fit needs.
"We just think it's important to really be transparent. The districts should be open with parents regarding the actual potential loss of learning and then the need for baseline testing," said Ed Chang, who helped found an Atlanta charter school before he became RedefinED's executive director. "If you don't know where you are starting from, it's going to be hard to get to the destination"
The study also suggests lengthening the school day or year to make up for lost in-person instruction. Expected state budget cuts might make that a challenge, but Chang said school leaders should review how they use existing classroom time to make sure it’spurposeful. Nonprofit partners and after-school program providers also can step in to help schools fill the academic gaps.