District 65 student achievement has declined in math during the last two years – the COVID-19 years – but remained relatively constant in reading. This is consistent with national trends.

Nationwide, the pandemic has taken a social and emotional toll on students, parents, teachers and administrators, and it has also had an impact on student learning.

The RoundTable published an article on Feb. 24 showing trends in student achievement on five Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests given to District 65 students in the last two years. This article takes an additional look at how District 65 students are doing academically two years into the pandemic, this time with the benefit of student results on the recent Winter MAP test. All of the data was obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

The pandemic hit in March 2020, and District 65’s schools were closed for in-person learning from mid-March 2020 through about mid-February 2021. Parents had the option to send their children back into the schools for in-person learning in mid-February 2021 or to continue with remote learning for the balance of the school year. At the start of the 2021-22 school year, all students were required to return to in-person learning.

Achievement status

The chart below shows the percentage of students in grades three through eight, by subgroup, who scored at or above the 50th percentile in reading and math on the winter MAP tests given in the school year 2021-2022 (SY’22). The chart shows that a higher percentage of students in each subgroup scored at or above the 50th percentile in reading than in math. The widest difference is for Black students: 43% scored above the 50th percentile in reading but only 30% in math. In addition, there continues to be wide gaps in the achievement between subgroups.

The charts below show trends in achievement for three subgroups. The first chart shows the percentage of Black, Hispanic and white students who scored at or above the 50th percentile in reading on six different MAP tests given during the last two years. The next chart shows the same type of information, but for math.

District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton told the RoundTable in an email, “Each of the MAP windows referenced paints a picture of academic learning at various phases of the pandemic when students were in very different learning settings. The pandemic forced all districts to continually adapt to meet evolving health guidance, all while maximizing instructional opportunities and working to meet the diverse learning and social emotional needs of students.”

  • The Winter MAP test in SY’20 is the only one administered before the pandemic.
  • The Fall and Winter SY’21 MAP tests were administered while all of District 65 was in remote learning. Horton said this period was the height of the pandemic when “there was notable variability in home testing conditions and reduced students in testing.”
  • The Spring SY’21 MAP test was administered shortly after District 65 schools reopened the schools for in-person learning on an optional basis.  
  • The Fall and Winter SY’22 tests were administered after the schools were fully open for in-person learning. Horton said SY’22 “is a better measure of individual and collective impact of the pandemic.”

The charts reflect that for reading, there were some slight variations from test to test in the percentage of students meeting the 50th percentile, but the trend line is relatively flat. The changes over the two-year period are relatively small for each subgroup.

For math, there is a more pronounced downward trend and Black and Latinx students declined more than white students. Latinx students, though, showed a 4 percentage point increase on the Winter SY’22 MAP test.

Meeting growth targets

The charts below show the percentage of students who met growth targets in reading and math on the Winter SY’22 MAP test. The growth targets were determined by the Northwest Evaluation Association, the owner of the MAP test, in a 2020 norms study. NWEA’s growth targets represent the “average” growth of students in the same grade who started out at the same level of achievement.

The chart shows that a higher percentage of students in each subgroup met their growth targets in reading than in math.

The chart also shows that the gap in the percentages of students meeting growth targets by subgroup is not as wide as the gap in the percentages of students meeting the 50th percentile.

For example, 63% of white students met their growth target in reading, compared to 59% of Hispanic students and 57% of Black students.

By contrast, 90% of white students scored at or above the 50th percentile in reading, compared to 50% of Hispanic students and 43% of Black students.

The charts below show the trends in meeting growth targets for the three subgroups. The first chart shows that in the last two years there was a significant decline in the percentage of Black, Hispanic and white students who met their growth targets in math in SY’21 and that Black students had another significant decline in SY’22. Latinx and White students, however, showed increases in SY’22.

For reading there was a decline in the percentage of Black, Hispanic and white students meeting growth targets in SY’21, but an increase for all subgroups in SY’22.  

Statistically, 50% of the students are expected to meet targeted growth. That is, if 50% of a student subgroup is meeting targeted growth, the subgroup is considered to be performing at the national average on this measure. It is important to recognize, however, that even if a student meets targeted growth year after year, it does not mean that the student will be on track to college readiness at the end of eighth grade.

Meeting targeted growth means that a student has achieved average (not accelerated) growth, and it aligns more with maintaining the status quo. NWEA says in its 2020 norm study that if a school district is interested in accelerating students’ growth or closing achievement gaps, it can set customized accelerated growth targets. District 65 has not done so. For more on this, click here for a RoundTable analysis.

The academic achievement goal contained in the new five-year contract between the School Board and Superintendent Horton is that the percentage of students meeting targeted growth increase by 3% each year. It does not provide for accelerated growth. Yet, the FY’23 Consolidated District Plan presented to the School Board on April 18 acknowledges that “there is a need to accelerate the learning of” Black, Latinx and low-income students.

In commenting on the data, Horton said, “While in years prior it was beneficial to look at the data from winter to winter, it’s presently difficult to accurately measure or consider the data to be truly representative of student progress. We also recognize while the pandemic has had profound impacts, it is our current reality and our students need us more than ever. Our educators, support staff, and leaders are giving 110% to propel student growth and to fill the gaps in learning brought on by covid-19. Our district team has met and continues to meet with all school leadership teams to provide more support and better meet the student needs that are being identified.”

Horton added, “Students are currently taking the Spring MAP assessment now and this will give us a clearer picture of students’ academic learning needs and opportunities for continued growth and instructional support.”

Higher declines in math

At District 65, it appears the pandemic has had a more significant impact on student achievement in math than in reading. This is consistent with findings made by NWEA researchers in a report issued in December 2022, which found that after most schools closed for in-person learning starting in March 2020, students began the 2020-21 school year with reading achievement “roughly comparable to a typical year, but that math achievement was between 5 to 10 percentile points lower, with students in earlier grades experiencing larger declines.”

At the start of the 2021-22 school year, the NWEA report found that achievement in reading was down 3 to 7 percentile points and in math it was down 9 to 11 percentile points. “In other words, we find continued evidence of significant unfinished learning.”  

The NWEA report also found that the percentage of students meeting targeted growth in reading between fall 2019 and fall 2021 neared pre-pandemic growth rates but that math gains were well below average. “This finding suggests that school-related disruptions continue to have a more significant impact on students’ acquisition of math skills/content compared to reading and highlights the need for continued focus on supporting the development of math skills.”

The NWEA report also said the largest declines in achievement during the pandemic were observed for Black and Latinx students.

A May 2022 study, “The Consequences of Remote and Hybrid Instruction During the Pandemic,” published by researchers at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research also found, using MAP data, that students lost ground during the pandemic.

“The main effects of hybrid and remote instruction are negative,” said the report, “implying that even at low-poverty (high income) schools, students fell behind growth expectations when their schools went remote or hybrid.”

The report concluded that if schools were closed for in-person learning in March 2020, and if students attended in-person learning most of the 2020-21 school year, they lost about 20% of expected growth in math over the two years of the study. If students had remote learning for most of 2020-21, they lost as much as 50% of a year’s math learning during the two-year span of the study. The study found the learning loss in reading followed a similar pattern, but was less acute.

The Harvard study also found that low-income students, as well as Black and Latinx students, fell further behind in the last two years compared to students who were high-income, white or Asian.

The researchers theorized that the learning losses in math may have been greater than in reading, saying, “While students learn math primarily in school, student learning in reading may depend more on parental engagement at home. Thus, the contrast between the math and reading findings for in-person districts may reflect differential family stresses outside of school.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...

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