School districts that offered less in-person instruction last year saw fewer students pass end-of-year standardized tests, a new academic study of student performance in 12 states has found.
Pass rates declined across the board compared to prior years, but “these declines were larger in districts with less in-person instruction,” conclude researchers from Brown University, M.I.T., and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
During the 2020-21 school year, passing rates in math declined by 14.2 percentage points on average, and passing rates in English Language Arts declined by 6.3 percentage points on average, in the 12 studied states (which included Massachusetts, but not New Hampshire).
However, “offering full in-person instruction rather than fully hybrid or virtual instruction reduces test score losses in math by 10.1 percentage points (on the base of 14.2 percentage points). In ELA, the loss is reduced in fully in-person settings by 3.2 percentage points.”
Moreover, academic losses in English Language Arts were more pronounced in districts with larger populations of minority students.
“Specifically, among districts with a larger share of Black and Hispanic students, districts with less in-person schooling saw a greater decline in ELA test scores than those with more in-person schooling. Although the impact of schooling mode on ELA is fairly small for districts which are majority white, it is large for those districts with a majority of students of color. Meanwhile, the impact of access to in-person learning had a similar effect on math scores for all districts, regardless of their racial composition.”
The results support the conclusion that in-person instruction produces larger learning gains, on average, than hybrid and remote instruction, the authors write.
“…our analyses demonstrate that virtual or distanced schooling modes cannot support student learning in the same way as in-person schooling. As such, educational impacts of schooling mode on students’ learning outcomes should be a critical factor in policy responses to future pandemics or other large-scale schooling disruptions,” they conclude.
The authors are Emily Oster and Clare Halloran of Brown University, James Okun of M.I.T., and Rebecca jack of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
The study is not the first to find that remote and hybrid instruction produced large drops in academic performance.
One from the Netherlands in April found that “students made little or no progress while learning from home.”
A meta-analysis this fall of 11 studies of COVID-related school closures on student performance found “a negative effect of school closures on student achievement, specifically in younger students and students from families with low socioeconomic status.”
These findings suggest that school closures probably were a significant factor in the drop in student test scores in New Hampshire last year. New Hampshire scores in math and reading dropped by percentages similar to those in other states.