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Addressing the COVID Learning Crisis

Mark Schneider, Director of IES | September 13, 2022

The recent release of the 2022 NAEP Long Term Trends (LTT) shows that two decades of educational progress have been lost in two years and reinforces the urgent need to put to use all the tools in the education science toolbox to accelerate learning and address gaps in student achievement exacerbated by COVID-19.

The situation is most likely worse than LTT tells us. Long Term Trends focus on reading and mathematics, and so cannot tell us about learning losses in science, history, civics, the arts, and all the other disciplines that make up a high-quality K-12 education. LTT also can't speak to how the pandemic and resulting school closures affected the development of social, emotional, and behavioral skills, all of which support academic learning and future success in life. And these NAEP data were only for 9-year-old students. LTT for 13-year-olds and "main NAEP" with national, state-by-state, and large urban district data will soon be released, giving us even more insight into how much the nation's students have lost.

Machiavelli is credited with the phrase "Never let a good crisis go to waste." (Apologies to Winston Churchill and Rahm Emanuel.) The COVID-19 crisis wreaked havoc on our students and on our nation. We must seize the opportunities to implement long overdue changes to improve the condition of education in the United States, especially for students who were struggling before the pandemic and who bore the brunt of its effects.

We already know there's a lot of work for IES to do. Prize competitions are an essential ingredient to our efforts. Our XPRIZE competition is moving along, with the finalists about to be announced. This past month, IES kicked off its Learning Acceleration Challenges, designed to rapidly identify and test interventions to improve math and science achievement. Teams of developers and schools are registering for the Math Prize and Science Prize at There's still time to get involved. Check out this webinar for more details.

In addition to our use of competitions to accelerate the translation of science into "facts on the ground," here are three other avenues we are pursuing.

First, we must be zealous about scaling up those interventions and strategies we already know work to promote student learning. The quintessential example is the science of reading. Every teacher in every classroom must have access to—and use—a core reading curriculum that is based on the science of reading and is part of a larger plan for comprehensive literacy instruction. IES has invested heavily in literacy research and related technical assistance since its establishment in 2002—so we have great information about how to improve reading instruction. To learn more about IES' literacy work, see here, here, here, and here. We need to work even harder to get science-based reading instruction adopted everywhere.

Second, we must take advantage of every opportunity we can find to scale existing evidence-based practices and discover new ones. The Department's collaboration with AmeriCorps and Johns Hopkins University to launch the National Partnership for Student Success, which includes a focus on rapidly expanding evidence-based tutoring across the nation, is one example. Another is our new Leveraging Evidence to Accelerate Recovery Nationwide Network (the LEARN Network), which we launched this month using funding from the American Rescue Plan. With guidance from the network lead, SRI International, LEARN will adapt and prepare to scale four funded products focused on accelerating literacy in K–3rd grade, 4th grade, and middle school students and on improving fraction knowledge in 5th graders. In addition to generating solutions to the nation's most pressing challenges to COVID-19 recovery within the education sector, IES expects that the combined efforts of this network will lead to the establishment of best practices for the field for how to effectively scale evidence-based products.

Third and finally, we must continue to fund research, evaluation, and data collection that can accelerate learning. We are funding research aimed at supporting parents, teachers, and school teams to improve student engagement to facilitate learning and well-being; developing and evaluating interventions to intensify learning in reading, math, and writing; and helping reduce the COVID-19-induced backlog of early intervention diagnoses for autism spectrum disorder through the development of a virtual diagnostic process. The School Pulse is another example of how we can work smarter to assess school conditions as the nation recovers from the pandemic. Originally designed to provide information about pandemic-related conditions in schools, the Pulse has evolved into a "sensor" that can be used to gather real-time information about learning recovery.

Far more important than verbally repeating Machiavelli's advice about not wasting a crisis are actions designed to fix the problems emerging from the crisis. IES is dedicated to helping the nation's students accelerate learning to overcome the hit we all took from the pandemic.

If you feel there are additional steps IES can take, you can reach me at: