A new report from the assessment group NWEA underscores two findings that could inform how schools support children with disabilities going forward. Students receiving special education services often make more academic growth during a single school year than their typically abled peers, but are at substantially higher risk of losing ground during summer break.

If students with disabilities fell behind during the pandemic the same way they do between school years, they are particularly vulnerable to what researchers call COVID Slide. To help address this, the report’s authors, together with the National Center for Learning Disabilities, have a number of recommendations.

For the long term, they say, more research is needed to better understand the value of increased specialized summer programming — something many families must now fight to get. In the immediate future, however, they emphasize tutoring, high-quality curriculum and use of data to personalized instruction as schools welcome back children who may have received few specialized supports during the pandemic.

While a trove of evidence shows that students in special education overall score much lower than their peers on standardized tests, NWEA says the report is the first to examine growth during the school year and summer learning loss specifically among children with disabilities.

NWEA’s MAP test, formerly known as the Measures of Academic Progress, is typically given in the fall and spring, and sometimes more often. Administered online, it measures how far ahead or behind their grade level a student is, revealing which specific skills they have not mastered, as well as academic growth made in a single year.

In contrast, state exams given in the spring provide a snapshot showing where students score in relation to what is expected for their grade. Because these yearly tests capture neither the strong academic growth among children with disabilities nor its rapid loss, they may obscure an important element to making special education more effective.

The MAP scores student progress according to units NWEA calls RITs — the rough equivalent of inches or feet on a yardstick. During the summer, students with disabilities lose 1.2 to 2.1 RITs per month, compared with -0.4 to -0.8 for non-disabled students.

Read the full article about students with disabilities research by Beth Hawkins at The 74.