A new review of COVID-era research shows that K–12 students around the world suffered harrowing learning loss due to school closures that persists today. The meta-analysis, published Monday in the science journal Nature Human Behavior, finds that students experienced average learning deficits equal to about one-third of a school year. And the harm was more severe in relatively poorer countries and among poorer populations of students.

Those conclusions represent the latest and widest-ranging evidence yet of the damage inflicted by the emergence of COVID — both in terms of direct interruptions to schooling and the social and economic turmoil in other spheres of life. They dovetail with the observations of education experts who have also pointed to steep declines in nationwide academic performance, along with the billion-dollar investments made by governments to help schools bounce back.

But they also come as voices in the national media have argued that learning losses may be less harmful than advertised, warning in some cases that a single-minded focus on the pandemic’s toll could hurt teacher morale. With American students now returned to a post-COVID reality in the classroom, a recent speech by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona largely skirted the subject of learning loss.

By contrast, the review, based on 42 research studies from 15 countries, calls for heightened urgency from both leaders and educators in re-setting the trajectory for student outcomes.

Robin Lake, director of the Center for Reinventing Public Education, said the findings were consistent with those of her own organization’s distillation of the existing research, released last summer.

“There is no question that learning gaps have become chasms and that while some students are catching up quickly, too many are not,” Lake wrote in an email. “This is a global concern and requires innovative and urgent action. I am deeply concerned that national educational and civic leaders in the U.S. are not taking this learning crisis seriously enough.”

Here are four key takeaways from the study:

  1. Inequality in education grew
  2. Poorer countries were hit harder too
  3. Learning loss is stuck in 2020
  4. Losses were greater in math than reading

Read the full article about international learning gaps by Kevin Mahnken at The 74.