Younger students markedly behind older peers post-pandemic: Study

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(NewsNation) — Students who began their formal education during the COVID-19 pandemic are consistently behind historic trends and require more help to keep pace than their older counterparts did, new data reveals.

A Curriculum Associates study compared three years of reading and math results from the same subjects — the youngest being 3 years old at the beginning of collection in 2021 and the oldest roughly 9 — to historical education trends.

The data show that different age groups are wading through post-pandemic education in divergent ways, with older kids rebounding and sometimes excelling, while younger students were concerningly behind historical data in both subjects.

Older students, who were in fourth grade during the pandemic’s beginning, showcased only .1 standard deviation from historic trends as they recovered from 2021’s low numbers. The younger group, however, is a massive .22 standard deviation behind historical data and losing ground.

Math results showed all cohorts behind historical trends as of spring 2024, with the standard deviation ranging from .19 to .45 below historic testing data.

Rather than a distinct difference between age groups, the research found that “the only cohort to demonstrate small signs of recovery are those students beginning Grade 4 in 2021.” Overall, students are far behind in math post-pandemic.

Student placement level played a paramount role in pandemic recovery. Students on grade level typically stayed on pace in reading and weren’t as far behind as others in math, while those who placed well below grade level were “almost always significantly behind historic trends” in both.

Curriculum Associates research found that another group of learners lagging behind are those from lower-income or minoritized communities. This suggests that “some populations or communities have benefited more while those most in need of support continue to need support.”

Many of the remaining pandemic aid programs, including $190 billion in K-12 relief, will expire by September 2024.

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