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Navigating Post-COVID Academic Growth: Insights and Strategies for Education Leaders

By: Kate Gasaway 07/01/2024

Explore crucial post-COVID academic growth trends and strategies. Learn how to support student recovery, address disparities, and equip educators with effective tools.

A student is holding a pencil and writing in a workbook.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators and leaders face unprecedented challenges in ensuring student academic growth. As we move forward, understanding the nuanced impacts of the pandemic on different student groups is crucial. This blog will explore key insights from Curriculum Associates' latest research and offer strategies for education leaders to support students effectively.

Key Findings on Student Academic Growth

Our research highlights several critical trends that represent a call to action for us as an education community:

  1. Signs of Recovery in Older Students: Older students, particularly those who were at or near grade level before the pandemic, are showing signs of recovery. Some are even surpassing historical growth trends, indicating resilience and the effectiveness of certain interventions.
  2. Early Learners Striving to Keep Pace: Younger students who were not yet enrolled in kindergarten at the start of the pandemic are notably behind historical academic growth trends. This cohort, disrupted at a crucial developmental stage, shows significant delays in both reading and mathematics.
  3. Stronger Growth in Reading: While there are differences in the disaggregated data, evidence for recovery is stronger in reading than in mathematics. This is especially true for students in the older cohorts who were one grade level behind.
  4. Students Below Grade Level: Those who were already below grade level in reading and mathematics before the pandemic are experiencing further setbacks. Their growth rates have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, exacerbating existing academic challenges.
  5. Widening Achievement Gaps: There is a growing gap between students who are exceeding grade levels and those who are not. This divergence poses significant challenges for educators striving to meet diverse learning needs within the same classroom.
  6. Impact on Lower-Income and Minoritized Communities: Students from lower-income or minoritized communities continue to underperform relative to their pre-pandemic trajectories. The pandemic has widened existing disparities, making targeted interventions more crucial than ever.

Research Methodology

Our study is unique in its longitudinal and disaggregated approach. We analyzed three years of data from millions of students, focusing on those who were ages 3–8 when COVID-19 disrupted their early learning environments. This method allows us to track the same students over time, providing a clear picture of their academic trajectories compared to historical patterns from 2016–2019. Five cohorts were followed over three school years (i.e., fall 2021 to spring 2024), starting from different grades. This detailed analysis provides robust insights into how different age groups and communities have been affected by the pandemic.

Strategies for Supporting Student Growth

Given these insights, here are strategic recommendations for education leaders:

  1. Invest in Early Interventions: Focus resources on the youngest learners who have fallen behind. Early interventions in reading and mathematics are crucial to bridging the gap for students who missed foundational learning opportunities during the pandemic.
  2. Support for Underperforming Students: Implement targeted support programs for students who were below grade level before the pandemic. This could include tutoring, after-school programs, and tailored instructional strategies.
  3. Equity-Focused Initiatives: Address the widened disparities in lower-income and minoritized communities by investing in equity-focused initiatives. This includes providing additional resources, support staff, and culturally responsive teaching practices.
  4. Professional Learning for Teachers: Ensure that teachers are equipped to handle the diverse needs of their students. Professional learning should focus on differentiated instruction and strategies for addressing learning loss.
  5. Leverage Longitudinal Data: Utilize longitudinal data to continuously monitor student progress and adjust strategies as needed. This approach allows for a more personalized and effective response to the unique needs of each student cohort.
  6. Community and Family Engagement: Engage families and communities in the recovery process. Providing parents with tools and resources to support learning at home can complement classroom efforts and foster a holistic approach to education.

Research Limitations and Long-Term Strategies

Curriculum Associates remains committed to supporting educators and students through these challenging times. Our longitudinal research approach, combined with robust data analysis, provides valuable insights for informed decision making. By building on our connections with education leaders and teachers, and demonstrating unwavering support for educators, we aim to set a positive narrative for academic recovery. 

This research is not an evaluation of specific instructional programs or strategies. Instead, it provides a temperature check of student academic growth post-pandemic, offering an initial analysis of where recovery may be occurring.

While the path to post-COVID academic recovery is complex, it is navigable with informed strategies and a collaborative approach. By focusing on targeted interventions, equity, and continuous support for teachers and students, we can ensure all students can succeed.

View the Research!