Thanks to covid, half of the kids were below grade level in at least one subject

Thanks to covid, half of the kids were below grade level in at least one subject


Half of students across the country started the academic year below grade level in at least one subject, according to federal survey data released Thursday. The results add to other research that suggests many students face a halting climb back from the tumble of the pandemic.

The finding, estimated by school leaders nationwide, was virtually unchanged from a year earlier and 13 percentage points worse than the typical year before the coronavirus, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Education Department.

“It just means we’ve got a long road ahead of us … to get kids to get back to grade level,” said Rachel Hansen, director of the center’s survey project.

Among schools that reported students below level, nearly all said at least some students were lagging in reading and math. Eighty percent cited science and about 70 percent social studies.

“We’re not seeing the upward trajectory that we would need to see in order to have a pandemic recovery,” said Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research and co-author of a December study that found little evidence of students recovering lost academic ground last school year.

School leaders looked to familiar strategies to help children catch up. Nearly 30 percent of schools reported they were spending more class time on targeted subject areas, and almost 20 percent said they were using an extended school day. More than 1 in 3 schools said they hired more educators to provide small-group instruction.

Schools sink their money into tutoring but some tutoring programs fall short

Tutoring was a major focus of the findings. More than 80 percent of schools relied on tutoring but fewer — 37 percent — offered what researchers say is the most effective kind: “high-dosage.” According to the federal definition, high-dosage tutoring is done at least three times a week, one-on-one or in small groups, for at least 30 minutes per session; it is provided by educators or well-trained tutors and aligned with an evidence-based core curriculum or program.

More schools — nearly 60 percent — offered what was called “standard tutoring,” defined as less intensive and less frequent, potentially serving more students at once and provided by educators who may not have had training in tutoring practices.

Not all tutoring labeled high-dosage is the same. Tom Kane, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said many school districts struggle to deliver high-dose tutoring because it is more staff-intensive and poses scheduling challenges. Some call their efforts high-dosage even if it’s not, he said.

“High-dosage tutoring is often an aspiration rather than a reality,” he said. And student outcomes may show it, he said: “The less intensive it is, the smaller the impacts we should expect.”

Just 10 percent of students in public schools nationwide received high-dose tutoring, and 14 percent had standard tutoring.

The findings also explored a type of tutoring called “self-paced,” in which students work on their own, often online, with guided instruction that helps them master material and then advance to new content. More than 20 percent of schools used that approach.

Some schools employ more than one kind of tutoring or other learning-recovery strategy.

Not specifically examined in the data was an increasingly common type of tutoring — called “opt in” or “on-demand” — which has drawn sharp criticism from advocates and parents for a low user rate in some places and for not reaching the students who need it most.

Results from national standardized tests in the fall showed the steepest scoring declines for the lowest-performing students. Across the student population, scores showed the first-ever drop in math and the largest dip in three decades in reading.

The federal data comes from a survey of school leaders, mostly principals, at 1,026 schools in December, and is considered “experimental” for using new data sources or methodologies. High-dosage tutoring data was not comparable to data in June and September 2022 because the center shifted the definition.