Remote Learning Lowered Test Scores In Every State Studied — And Was Way Worse For Minorities

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Bored black school girl taking notes while having online lesson

Remote learning led to declines in test scores in English and math when compared to the scores of schools that had more in-person learning, according to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

Leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic forced many schools to close in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, but many schools remained closed throughout the 2020-2021 school year. According to new research from the NBER, remote learning had a negative impact on students’ test scores in English language arts (ELA) and math in all 12 states studied. Declines in scores were smaller for students who continued in-person learning.

“Our research shows that test score losses are significantly larger in districts with less in-person learning,” Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University, told Yahoo News. “This suggests, yes, that virtual learning was — and is — less effective than in-person learning, at least as measured by school-based testing.”

“Passing rates in math declined by 14.2 percentage points on average; we estimate this decline was 10.1 percentage points smaller for districts fully in-person,” the study found.

The research combined “district-level schooling mode data from the 2020-21 school year,” “district-level test score data from 2015 to 2021” and “demographic data from the NCES,” according to the study. The data was collected among students in third to eighth grades in 12 states across the U.S.: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.


Changes in ELA were smaller than math scores overall, but drops in scores were greater in districts with larger black and hispanic populations and students eligible for free and reduced lunch prices.

Districts that have a larger share of black and hispanic students and less in-person schooling also saw a greater decline in ELA test scores than those with more in-person schooling.

“Although the impact of schooling mode on ELA is fairly small for districts which are majority white, it is large for those districts with a majority of students of color,” the study concluded. “Meanwhile, the impact of access to in-person learning had a similar effect on math scores for all districts, regardless of their racial composition.”

The declines in scores also varied by state. In Virginia, for example, which had the most completely virtual learning time, along with Colorado, saw an almost 32% drop on math test scores in the 2020-21 school year when compared to the 2018-19 school year.

Wyoming, on the other hand, which had the most in-person learning, along with Florida, saw just a 2.3% drop in English, the study found.

“It was very unfortunate this this discussion fell so strongly along political lines, rather than focusing on whether schools could be opened safely and how,” Oster told Yahoo News. “In hindsight, I think the biggest issue was simply not making schools and children a priority.”

Oster did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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