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Best evidence on impact of Covid-19 on pupil attainment

Research examining the potential impact of school closures on the attainment gap.

This page aims to summarise the research around the impact of changes to practice due to Covid-19 on pupil attainment. It is updated as new studies are published. Studies have not been reviewed systematically. 

Studies that measure the impact of partial school closures

StudyWhat does it look at?What is the impact on learning?What is the impact on disadvantaged pupils?
NFER Interim Report (EEF funded)This interim report assesses the extent to which Year 2 pupils’ attainment in reading and maths were impacted by partial school closures during the first national Covid-19 lockdown,Year 2 pupils were 2 months behind in English and maths in Autumn 2020 compared to pupils in previous years.The disadvantage gap is large in both reading and maths (7 months) and seems to have widened from previous estimates
Department for Education Interim Report The analysis is based on the results achieved by pupils (across age groups) in the first half of the 2020/21 autumn term (up to and including 25 October 2020) in comparison to pupils in previous yearsAll year groups have experienced a learning loss in reading. In primary schools these were typically between 1.7 and 2.0 monthsSchools with high levels of disadvantage have experienced higher levels of loss than other schools, particularly in secondary (2.2 months in schools with high rates of free school meal eligibility and 1.5 months in schools with low rates of free school meal eligibility)
RS AssessmentThis paper analyses attainment among primary pupils in England after the national lockdown and suspension of most in-person teaching during the spring and summer of 2020At the end of the 2020 autumn term, there were measurable declines in attainment compared to the previous year across virtually all subjects and year groups (1-2 months))The Year 6 Pupil Premium group could now be around 7 months behind the non-Pupil Premium group in Maths, a widening of 2 months since 2019.
GL AssessmentAn interim report on data derived from Progress Test Series in English, maths and science and the New Group Reading Test (primary and secondary)On average, school attainment has fallen across all subjects. Maths (PTM) and science (PTS) scores declined most between 2019 and 2020 The difference between students with FSM and those without was not significant.
Juniper EducationThe study examines Juniper Education teacher assessments for pupils in years 1-6The number of children in Years 2 to 6 who were achieving at or above the standard expected for their age dropped by approximately one fifth between autumn 2019 and summer 2020There was a more pronounced drop in the proportion of disadvantaged pupils working to expected levels for their age than for their non-disadvantaged peers, with Year 1 2019/20 worst affected
NWEA (USA)This US study used data from nearly 4.4 million students¹ in grades 3–8 who took MAP® Growth™ assessments in fall 2020In fall of 2020, students in grades 3–8 performed similarly in reading to same-grade students in fall 2019, but about 5 to 10 percentile points lower in math. No conclusions - but concerns over missing data from disadvantaged students
Maldonado, De Witte (2020) The Effect of School Closures on Standardised Student Test Outcomes (Belgium)The study examines differences in standardised test score for primary schools in BelgiumSignificant differences in learning 4 months equivalent in maths, 3 months in Dutch Schools with a more disadvantaged population experienced larger learning losses.
Engzell, Frey, Verhagen (2021) Learning loss due to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic (Holland)This study examines national test data in Holland for pupils aged 8-11Results reveal a learning loss of about 3 percentile points. The effect is equivalent to a fifth of a school yearLosses sixty percent greater in students whose parents had low education, despite good broadband/device distribution
Curriculum Associates (USA)This analysis examines K-8 students in US, using results of the i-Ready Diagnostic test from Fall 2020Students were 1% more likely to place below grade level in reading 2020 than historical record and 6% more likely to be behind in mathematicsStudents in lower-income schools appear to be impacted more than students in higher-income schools by school closures.
Kogan, Lavertu (2021) The COVID-19 Pandemic and Student Achievement on Ohio’s Third-Grade English Language Arts Assessment (USA)The study summarises Third-Grade English Language Arts Assessment in OhioAverage achievement on the Ohio Third-Grade English Language Arts (ELA) assessment declined by roughly one-third of a year’s worth of learning.The greatest declines were in counties where unemployment was highest.
Pier, Hough, Christian, Bookman, Wilkenfeld, Miller (2021) Evidence on Learning Loss From the CORE Data Collaborative (USA)Growth in standardized attainment (maths/reading) for 2019 to 2020, compared to previous years, for grades 4-10 Learning loss in English and Maths in elementary and middle score (average of 1-2 months for grades 4-8); evidence of learning gains in high school maths (grades 9-10) and no change in high-school English.Evidence of widening gaps in elementary/middle school (grades 4-8) for reading (2 months) and maths (0.7 months). In high school, no evidence of gap widening.
Domingue, Hough, Lang, Yeatman (2021) Changing Patterns of Growth in Oral Reading Fluency During the COVID-19 Pandemic (USA)Growth in oral reading fluency, compared to previous years, for grades 1-4 Evidence of learning loss in reading fluency across grades 1-4. No evidence of 'catch-up' in Autumn 2020, but learning rates returned to typical levels.Disadvantage analysis is at the district level. No clear evidence that districts greater levels of disadvantage had greater learning loss due to covid-19.

What does the evidence say?

There is a growing evidence around the impact of school closures on the learning outcomes of pupils. Research shows a consistent pattern:

  • Pupils have made less academic progress compared with previous year groups
  • There is a large attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils, which seems to have grown

Studies from NFER, Department for Education and GL assessment show a consistent impact of the first national lockdown with pupils making around 2 months less progress than similar pupils in previous years. The studies from NFER and RS assessment both show large gaps for disadvantaged pupils, which seem to have grown since the start of the pandemic. 

While many studies show similar learning effects between English and mathematics learning, some recent studies - including the analysis commissioned by the DfE does indicate some increased learning loss for mathematics. Most studies have taken place in primary schools. Where studies have examined older pupils (DfE and GL Assessment), the results are inconsistent with one study showing similar impacts and the other showing a smaller impact for pupils in secondary schools.

All current studies only measure the impact of the first national lockdown and do no take into account the potential impact of subsequent national restrictions. The study by GL Assessment also collected data towards the end of Autumn term, which suggests some successful recovery during this term. None of the studies in England use national assessment data due to the cancellation of testing. 

The research is consistent with surveys of parents and teachers on access to education during the pandemic, which indicates disparities in access to technology and levels of parental support - one potential explanation for why gaps might open up between groups of pupils. The recent evidence is also consistent with prior research, which shows differential learning loss during summer holidays and other school closures, which is summarised in the EEF rapid evidence assessment on school closures. 

International evidence from Belgium, Holland and the USA is consistent in showing overall progress gaps and attainment gaps for disadvantaged pupils. 

Links to studies

  1. NFER (2021) Impact of school closures and subsequent support strategies on attainment and socio-emotional wellbeing in Key Stage 1: Interim Paper 1, Education Endowment Foundation. Available here.
  2. Education Policy Institute, Renaissance Learning (2021) Understanding Progress in the 2020/21 Academic Year interim findings, Department for Education. Available here
  3. RS Assessment (2021) The impact of school closures on autumn 2020 attainment. Available here
  4. GL Assessment (2021) Impact of Covid-19 on attainment: initial analysis. Available here.
  5. Juniper Education (2021) National Dataset Report: The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on primary school children's learning. Available here
  6. Maldonado, De Witte (2020) The Effect of School Closures on Standardised Student Test Outcomes. Download here
  7. Engzell, Frey, Verhagen (2021) Learning loss due to school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Available here.
  8. Kuhfeld, Tarasawa, Johnson, Ruzek, Lewis (2020) Learning During Covid-19: Initial findings on students' reading and math achievement and growth, Collaborative for Student Growth. Available here
  9. Curriculum Associates (2020) Understanding student needs: Early results from fall assessments. Available here
  10. Kogan, Lavertu (2021) The COVID-19 Pandemic and Student Achievement on Ohio’s Third-Grade English Language Arts Assessment (USA). Available here
  11. Pier, Hough, Christian, Bookman, Wilkenfeld, Miller (2021) Evidence on Learning Loss From the CORE Data Collaborative, PACE. Available here.
  12. Domingue, Hough, Lang, Yeatman (2021) Changing Patterns of Growth in Oral Reading Fluency During the COVID-19 Pandemic, PACE. Available here.

This list is not based on a systematic search, if you know of any studies we are missing that measure attainment during the pandemic, please get in touch with jonathan.kay@eefoundation.org.uk

EEF funded studies

The EEF have funded three studies looking at the impact of partial school closures on the disadvantage gap. Where papers are published from the projects they are added to the table above. 

Other evidence on the impact of Covid-19

  • The EEF conducted a rapid evidence assessment on previous school closures and the attainment gap, which can be found here. A summary of findings is here.
  • Sutton Trust have conducted polling of parents and teachers at different stages of the pandemic, which indicates disparities in access to devices and other barriers to learning for disadvantaged pupils. It can be found here.
  • IFS have conducted polling on learning during the first national lockdown, which can be found here
  • The Big Lockdown Learning Parent Survey seeks to examine parental accounts of learning during the second national lockdown, information on the study and its findings can be found here
  • This UCL IOE study examined remote mathematics practice during Covid-19, and includes interesting findings on schools approaches to curriculum delivery during this period. It can be found here
  • Dr Canovan and Naomi Fallon published a working paper on the levels of learning in Science during lockdown. It does not report pupil outcome findings, but does indicate lower levels of science teaching during lockdown. It can be found here
  • NFER have a helpful summary on research conducted into schools' responses to Covid-19, which can be found here
  1. Updated: 3rd June, 2020

    Rapid evidence assessment summary

  1. Updated: 2nd June, 2020

    Impact of school closures on the attainment gap: Rapid Evidence Assessment (June 2020)

The EEF has produced a number of resources that respond to the challenges of remote teaching and long-term recovery. They include information on parental engagement, school planning and the National Tutoring Programme, and can be found on the Covid-19 section of our website.