Quantifying the Impact of School Closures on Metro Atlanta Student Proficiency

redefinED atlanta and Learn4Life (L4L) today announced the release of a new study, “Quantifying the Impact of School Closures on Metro Atlanta Student Proficiency.” The report estimates today about 21,000 fewer students in ELA and 29,000 fewer in math are now on track for grade-level proficiency than prior to COVID-19.

In 2019-20, metro Atlanta students lost nine weeks of regular instruction due to the COVID-mandated quick transition to distance learning in mid-March. Based on local and national data, if students had taken the Milestone assessments in spring 2020, the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency would be expected to drop 3.6 points in English language arts and 4.9 points in math as compared to last year. Two specific proficiency measures tracked by Learn4Life which are highly correlated to student long term success, 3rd-grade reading and 8th-grade math, show an expected decline of 3.5% and 4.8% respectively.  

 Achievement projections are more concerning for Black, Latinx, and economically disadvantaged students in the metro Atlanta region. The study projects that only three out of ten historically underserved students will now be on track to grade-level proficiency, which reverses recent gains.

“As districts prepare for cuts to already limited budgets, it’s imperative that district leaders take an equity-minded approach to resource allocation,” said Ed Chang, executive director of redefinED atlanta. “This is also an opportunity to take bold action and put forth radical changes because we cannot afford to regress.” 

Metro Atlanta school districts made steady progress in student achievement over the last few years.  Unfortunately, school closures caused by the pandemic may have largely eliminated those gains for thousands of underserved students. Now is the time to learn from our partners across the region and to redouble our efforts as a community to get students back on track,” said Dr. Kenneth Zeff, executive director of Learn4Life.

The report findings drew from national research on student learning loss during the summer months as well as natural disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. This data was then compared to Atlanta-area data reflecting how schoolwide student attendance impacts growth and achievement on the Georgia Milestones. This approach is based on the more conservative assumption that the steady improvement in proficiency over proceeding years remains at 2019 levels. If the study assumed continued steady improvement, even more students may have been impacted by the lack of in-person instruction.

The report commissioned by redefinED atlanta and Learn4Life includes several possible solutions for education policymakers, including:

  • Assess all students to secure a baseline to determine the actual learning loss when students return to school.
  • Lengthen the school year and/or school day by five percent for the next two years.
  • Prioritize math instruction as well as reading during any future remote learning.

On March 26th, Governor Kemp ordered all schools closed in Georgia as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption to the final months of the 2019-20 school year, metro Atlanta school leaders and staff rapidly worked to provide students with technology such as iPads, Chromebooks and internet hotspots to help teachers and students connect in an effort to continue their learnings and finish the school year. Even with the best efforts provided by districts, schools and teachers, families reported lack of technology and other resources that prohibited some students from participating in distance learning; districts have reported that student attendance after launching virtual instruction was low.