There is good reason to fear that this spring’s school closures hurt students’ academic progress. But how much learning, exactly, did students lose?

On a national level, we don’t yet know. State tests were canceled last spring, and this year’s tests won’t be given for many months, if they happen at all.

That’s prompted researchers to release their own projections of learning loss — and they paint a grim picture.

The nonprofit testing organization NWEA predicted that students started this school year having lost roughly a third a year in reading and half a year in math. CREDO, an education research organization, recently projected that the average student lost 136 to 232 days of learning in math, depending on their state. McKinsey, the consulting firm, predicts that by the fall of 2021, students will have lost three months to a year of learning, depending on the quality of their remote instruction.

In the absence of actual data on student learning — which is only just starting to emerge from diagnostic exams — those estimates have been widely cited by state and federal officials. The projections, then, are influencing decisions about how to help students catch up, what schools and students need extra resources, and when to reopen school buildings.

“I think people really latched onto it because it gave some certainty in a very uncertain world of what this could look like,” said Megan Kuhfeld, a research scientist for NWEA.

But those projections aren’t ironclad. Here’s what they can tell us — and why educators and policymakers should use them carefully.

  • Projections of learning loss are just that.
  • The projections rely on the assumption that students learned nothing (or worse) once schools shut their doors.
  • Some view CREDO’s projections of learning loss as implausibly large.
  • Learning loss predictions for individual students are especially imprecise.
  • The projections don’t take into account other factors, like COVID-related trauma, that may have hurt students’ learning.
  • Wrong projections come with risks

Read the full article about learning loss projections by Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat.