Student Learning Gaps and the Need for a Strong Accountability System

Student disengagement and learning loss are competing for attention among the innumerable education challenges surfaced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Across the country, state legislatures, school districts, education advocacy organizations, parents, and communities are trying to support their students and ensure equitable access and support to education resources.

A consolidation of studies by McKinsey & Company highlights evidence that student learning loss due to the pandemic has disproportionately affected low-income students and students of color. This equity concern must be addressed as we begin to consider re-engagement and recovery strategies for learners and our education system.

Recently signed into law by Governor Polis, (SB22-137) Transition Back to K-12 Standard Accountability, will ensure student learning data is transparent and will allow the state to target support and resources to the districts and schools that need it the most.

During the pandemic, our state’s accountability system was put on hold as schools triaged learning and pivoted to virtual and hybrid models. Many learners fell behind in these uncertain times, facing economic strife, limited access to online learning, low attendance, and mental health challenges. McKinsey found student absenteeism rose, with 2.7 times as many students on a path to be chronically absent from school this year compared with pre-pandemic rates.

While the effects of student learning loss and absenteeism rates are significant for all students, learners at majority-Black schools were at least 12 months behind their peers in majority-white schools, according to the McKinsey data. According to the Colorado Department of Education, evidence suggests students may have lost 63-68 percent of learning gains in reading, and 37-50 percent of learning gains in math.

Colorado Succeeds believes our state’s testing and school accountability system will give us data to understand the full scope of learning loss and the policy changes needed to address it.

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Kelly Caufield