The News: A new study from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) finds that Wisconsin schools that closed for in-person learning to start the 2020-21 school year saw significant performance declines in math and English. These Wisconsin school closures, impacting more than 250,000 students, occurred in districts with large numbers of African American and low-income students. The findings highlight the growing body of evidence that school closures hurt the academic performance of students who can least afford setbacks in education.
The Quote: WILL Research Director, Will Flanders, said, “Evidence is piling up that the decision to close schools for in-person learning was a disastrous mistake with long-term consequences. As we count the cost, we should be mindful to employ policy solutions that will help these students recover and keep schools open.”
Findings: Counting the Cost: Wisconsin School Closures and Student Proficiency, by Will Flanders and Miranda Spindt, reviewed school closure decisions in the 2020-21 school year and ran an analysis to see their impact on recent Forward Exam data. The findings point towards significant learning loss for students in districts that chose virtual learning over a hybrid or in-person experience.
  • Districts that remained closed for in-person learning saw significant declines in math proficiency. Math proficiency was approximately 4.8% lower in districts that were closed for in-person learning in fall 2020.
  • Districts that remained closed for in-person learning saw significant declines in English proficiency. English/Language Arts proficiency was 1.6% lower in districts that were closed for in-person learning in fall 2020.
  • Districts with a higher percentage of African American students were more likely to remain closed in fall 2020. Our results show that the higher the percentage of African American students in a district, the more likely that district was to remain shut down for in-person learning.
  • Districts with a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students saw larger performance declines. A district with 100% low-income students would be expected to have proficiency declines of more than 6% in math and 7% in ELA relative to a school with no low-income students independent of closure status.
  • More than 257,000 students in Wisconsin spent at least part of the 2020-21 school year without in-person learning. This represents approximately 30% of all students in the state.
  • Wisconsin had a learning crisis before the pandemic and the future of our students is at stake. Pre-pandemic, nearly 60% of Wisconsin students couldn’t read or write at grade level. With the addition of school closures and student learning loss, this is the biggest crisis facing our state’s future.
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