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MSU study: Michigan students' academic progress slowed way down during the pandemic

Posted at 10:28 AM, Apr 28, 2022

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A recent Michigan State University study found that academic progress for elementary and middle school students in Michigan slowed way down during the pandemic.

"What we looked at is how students were doing from fall '20 into spring '21 and then fall '21," said Katharine Strunk, the director of Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at MSU.

The collaborative worked with the Michigan Department of Education to analyze benchmark assessments, tests given to students twice a year to assess their academic progress.

They looked at scores from 750,000 of Michigan's 935,000 kindergarten through 8th grade students.

"What we know is that about 40 percent of students met their growth targets on their benchmark assessments, and that's about 10 percentage points fewer on average than in a typical school year," Strunk said.

She also mentioned about a quarter of students showed no growth at all. During the time the tests were taken, students weren't in their normal learning environment.

"What we show in this report is that students who are learning remotely for more of the year actually had lower rates of achievement growth on their benchmark than students who are learning in person more of the year," she said.

They also looked at achievement growth gaps and noticed low-income students grew less than their higher-income peers.

"Students who live in urban areas are often some of the lower-income students in the state, and the urban areas were more likely to be remote. And that was because of the COVID prevalence that was happening in those areas," Strunk said, adding that, if a student's parent was a frontline worker, they may have been learning home alone.

In mid-Michigan, educators said they saw scores drop too.

"Students coming into the fall when they did the benchmark that they performed at a lower level than maybe we've seen over the past few years as a trend," said Steve Netzel, executive director of curriculum and instruction at Holt Public Schools.

"We knew that online learning was new at Holt public, especially for elementary kids. So we had some hunches that when they returned in the fall, that we would need to add some additional supports, based on the COVID-19 experience," he said.

Since returning to in-person learning, the district has been working on ways to improve scores before the next benchmark assessment.

"We have about 190-ish students that stay after the normal school day and receive some support from a certified teacher back in the building," Netzle said, adding that, with the additional resources and support, students are seeing tremendous growth from where they started in the fall.

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