With Coronavirus shutting down in-person schools across the country, many people are becoming concerned that their child will not be ready to advance to the next grade level. In his recent research brief, JLF’s Dr. Terry Stoops writes that parents should have the opportunity to make that decision with educators – rather than educators making that decision for parents.

Dr. Stoops writes:

Educators and researchers worry about the “COVID-19 slide,” that is, learning loss magnified by the interruption of conventional classroom instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic.  To estimate the magnitude of the COVID-19 slide, Beth Tarasawa and Megan Kuhfeld, researchers for the Northwest Evaluation Association, used MAP Growth assessments to project the average academic growth trajectory by grade for reading and mathematics.  They found,

“Preliminary COVID slide estimates suggest students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year. However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50% of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.”

This loss of educational progress is certainly concerning, but it is not clear that repeating a grade is the right way to address it. Stoops explains:

Beyond public opinion, research suggests that children that repeat grades generally do not benefit.  Many retained students do not sustain the academic advantages that an additional year of grade-level instruction purportedly affords.  Other studies claim that forcing children to repeat a grade increases the likelihood that they will drop out.  Of course, grade retention of this magnitude would be unprecedented.  As of the 2016-17 school year, nearly 3.2 million students repeated one or more grades.  Millions more would repeat a grade under Petrilli’s proposal, so much of the existing research literature may not be applicable.

If the decision is made to repeat a grade, that decision should be a collaborative one between the parents and educators. Stoops writes:

In the end, grade retention is a blunt instrument for addressing a few lost months of learning.  States should give parents the option to place their children in the same grade next year, but I believe there are better ways to address the problem of learning loss.  Stay tuned.

Read the full brief here. Learn more about how Coronavirus is affecting North Carolina here,