Understanding Student Needs: Findings from Fall 2020 i-Ready Diagnostics

By: | 12/01/2020
Categories: Data Culture, Distance Learning

In spring 2020, schools across the country were forced to close to protect their students, teachers, and communities from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through a series of interviews with educators, we learned that administrators and teachers were very concerned that students would begin the 2020–2021 school year dramatically behind where they should be.

As soon as the Curriculum Associates Research team had a large enough sample of fall 2020 results from the i-Ready Diagnostic, we worked to uncover insights we would share with educators. We published our early findings from Diagnostics taken between August 1 and September 9 in a research brief called Understanding Student Needs: Early Results from Fall Assessments. In this post, we’re sharing our findings from a larger sample, reflecting assessments taken at any point either remotely or in school during the fall Diagnostic testing window: August 1 through November 15. While the sample size increased, the data trends remained the same as with our earlier publication.

Our continued research has given us deeper insights into how the pandemic affected student learning, and it offers us new information about Diagnostics that were taken remotely and the demographics of students who were more likely to be taking the Diagnostic remotely.

Using the same method to analyze this larger dataset that was used to create Understanding Student Needs, we compared fall 2020 Diagnostic data from Grades 1–8 to a rolling average of fall performance data for these same grades across the three most recent typical school years.

Here are our four top findings:

Finding 1: More elementary students started out the 2020–2021 school year underprepared for grade-level work in Reading than in the past.

In Reading, more students were not ready for grade-level work in Grades 1–5 in fall 2020 compared to the historical average of students in those same schools. In middle school grades, we saw no change among Grades 6 and 7 and a slight decrease in the percentage of students who were below grade level in Grade 8.

Graph 1: In Grades 1–5, more students are not performing on grade level in Reading. In Grade 8, fewer students are underprepared for grade-level work in Reading.

Graph showing percentage of students reading below grade level by two or more grades in fall 2020 versus historical average.

Finding 2: More students started out the 2020–2021 school year underprepared for grade-level work in Mathematics in elementary and middle school than in the past.

In Mathematics, more students were not ready for grade-level work across all grades in fall 2020 compared to the historical average of students in those same schools. Grade 3 showed the highest uptick in percentage of students who were below grade level.

Graph 2: Across all grades, more students are underprepared for grade-level work in math.

Graph showing percentage of students below grade level by two or more grades in math in fall 2020 versus historical average.

Finding 3: Schools that tested in school during fall 2020 had historically higher performances than the schools that tested remotely during fall 2020.

Though the fall 2020 data we collected from districts that tested remotely was too inconsistent for us to responsibly draw conclusions about unfinished learning, we were nonetheless able to observe trends that educators might find valuable.

When we looked at the historical averages for students who tested in school and remotely (which, remember, are pre-pandemic results from when all students were taking the Diagnostic in school), we saw that students who tested in school in fall 2020 were in schools that had historically higher performances than the schools that tested remotely in fall 2020.

For example, in Mathematics, students who tested remotely in fall 2020 attended schools that historically saw 32 percent of students underprepared for grade level at the beginning of the school year. Whereas students who tested in school during fall 2020 attended schools that historically saw 24 percent of students underprepared for grade level at the beginning of the school year. In other words, students who tested in school in fall 2020 attended schools that, historically, had fewer students underprepared for grade level compared with schools that tested remotely.

Graph 3: Percentage of Students on Grade Level in Reading and Mathematics Historically by Schools That Tested in School and Remotely in Fall 2020

Graph comparing percentage of students on grade level for math and reading testing in school versus out.

Finding 4: Schools in which students took the Diagnostic remotely were more likely to serve majority Black and Latino student populations.

Our data revealed that schools in which students took the fall 2020 Diagnostic remotely were more likely to serve a high population of students of color and schools in which students who took the fall 2020 Diagnostic in school were more likely to serve a high population of White students.

Comparison of different populations' in school versus out-of-school Diagnostic results.

We also observed the following in our data:

  • Students who took the fall 2020 Diagnostic in school attended schools with historically higher average scores than the historical average scores for schools in which students took the fall 2020 Diagnostic remotely.

  • The median household income was slightly higher for schools in which students took the fall 2020 Diagnostic in school than the median household income for schools in which students took the fall 2020 Diagnostic remotely.

Final Thoughts

With winter testing currently underway, we are watching the data as it comes in and looking to see if more students are ready for grade-level content at midyear. We will share the winter assessment results with our educators as soon as we can.

To learn more about fall 2020 results, visit our website.

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