Learning Loss in Metro Atlanta: COVID-19 Reverses Years of Progress

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 school-wide 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.

Read the full report, commissioned by redefinED atlanta and L4L, here.

In support of district leaders challenged with questions around returning to school in the fall, L4L also interviewed metro Atlanta’s superintendents to ask how they plan to deliver instruction in the coming months. The Metro Atlanta School District Reopening Strategies Report is a summary of innovative practices that have the potential to scale across the region.