Skip to main content

Main Area

Main

States where COVID-19 has widened student achievement gaps

  • States where COVID-19 has widened student achievement gaps

    When schools across the country moved to distance learning in the spring to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus, educators and others immediately worried about students on the wrong side of the digital divide. Schools have already been confronting persistent achievement gaps between low- and high-income students, as well as between Black and Hispanic students and white students, and time away from school seemed likely to worsen it. McKinsey & Company published a report in June predicting that low-income, Black, and Hispanic students would probably experience the greatest losses in learning.

    The Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, a project by a team of researchers based at Harvard University, compiles and tracks the economic impacts of COVID-19 on businesses and communities across America. One area of research for the group is student activity on Zearn, a math application which is used for online instruction across the country. The OIET has compiled data on both student engagement and student achievement (measured in “badges” earned by students) for K-12 students, broken down by month and by economic status.

    Stacker has identified the achievement and engagement changes driven by COVID-19 for students in every state, based on comparing average Zearn activity in January and February 2020 to average activity in March through June. Stacker compared the achievement and engagement for schools in high-income ZIP codes (defined by the tracker as the 25% of ZIP codes with the highest median income) to the achievement and engagement for schools in low-income ZIP codes (the 25% of ZIP codes with the lowest median income). States and Washington D.C. are ranked here according to their achievement gaps—the differences in achievement between these two groups. Eight states do not have data available for either the high- or low-income group and are therefore not ranked in the story.

    Read on to learn about COVID-19’s effects on learning in your state.

    You may also like: States receiving the most PPE from the federal government

  • Arkansas (not ranked)

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -34.3%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -45.4%
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -46.7%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -54.3%

    Arkansas is using $10 million in federal aid to buy 20,000 Wi-Fi devices so that students can access the internet at home. They will have two years of unlimited data. Over the summer, students were able to take advantage of virtual tutoring and even a virtual art camp. Still, education officials expect 70% of students to fall behind in learning.

  • Hawaii (not ranked)

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -3.2%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: -1.0%
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: not available
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -34.0%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: -28.1%
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: not available

    Hawaii got $43 million in federal funding via the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, part of the CARES Act. The money can be used for laptops, hotspot devices, and other technology, for mental health services for students, and to help teachers move to online learning.

  • Maine (not ranked)

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: 38.5%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: 9.7%
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -6.1%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -20.4%

    Maine is using $9 million of its federal relief to help 24,000 students connect to the internet with Wi-Fi hotspots and to buy laptops and tablets. Critics say more money should have gone to improving internet access in rural areas.

  • Minnesota (not ranked)

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -11.9%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: -26.4%
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: not available
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -31.1%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: -39.3%
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: not available

    In Minneapolis, a so-called “pandemic pod” was created with a twist: for a poorer neighborhood to offer assistance to children in danger of falling behind, with tutors helping students engaged in distance learning. Corporations and community organizations are funding other pods emphasizing support for students of color with tutors, Chromebooks, internet access, and other services. Typically, the pods are created by relatively wealthy parents.

  • Montana (not ranked)

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -2.6%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -26.6%
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -24.7%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -44.1%

    Montana schools got $41 million directly from the CARES Act and another $75 million to help schools reopen. The state is providing special education services to students with disabilities while schools are closed. One school district used stimulus money to hire roving substitute teachers, who are in short supply during the pandemic.

    You may also like: 50 indicators for understanding America's economy right now

  • Nebraska (not ranked)

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -22.0%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -15.2%
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -38.9%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -28.5%

    Nebraska schools were allocated $60.8 million from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund in the CARES Act. The state’s application for money from the federal Governor's Emergency Education Relief claims it will focus on providing internet access for students, including installing community Wi-Fi hotspots in underserved communities.

  • North Dakota (not ranked)

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: 18.3%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: 47.1%
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: not available
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: 1.6%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: 8.5%
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: not available

    North Dakota is using its $31 million for schools from the CARES Act mainly to allow schools to pay for extra staff and to fund a software program that provides individual assistance in math, reading, and English. Some of the money will be allocated to help families acquire broadband service for distance learning.

  • Vermont (not ranked)

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: 91.2%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: 87.5%
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: 18.1%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: 3.9%

    All public high schools in Vermont must offer personalized learning, from internships to online classes. Coordinators keep the program going, according to the education publication The 74 Million, and they are now using these personalized learning programs to create the remote and combination instruction necessitated by the pandemic.

  • West Virginia (not ranked)

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -6.8%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -9.7%
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -33.6%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: not available
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -33.9%

    West Virginia created a committee to find ways for teachers to identify student weaknesses and gaps in learning that may be related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It received $86.6 million from the CARES Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Money was allocated for buying technology and closing achievement gaps.

  • #42. Delaware

    - Overall achievement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: 25.6%
    --- Achievement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: -44.4%
    --- Achievement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: 27.1%
    --- Achievement gap: -71.5%
    - Overall engagement change in online math program, winter to spring 2020: -10.2%
    --- Engagement change for schools in high-income ZIP codes: -42.8%
    --- Engagement change for schools in low-income ZIP codes: -31.6%
    --- Engagement gap: -11.2% (#36 highest among all states)

    Delaware will receive nearly $50 million for its public schools through the federal CARES Act. It also settled an education equity lawsuit brought by Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the NAACP of Delaware that highlighted a lack of resources for low-income students. It adds resources for English learners and low-income students, an amount now at $25 million and which will rise to $60 million by the 2024-2025 school year.

    You may also like: Industries performing best and worst during the coronavirus—and how they're responding