The Learning Gap; Have Student Grades Survived the Pandemic?

When the pandemic began, online learning became a safe alternative to in-person teaching as it would ensure students could continue their education during those unprecedented times. From students sitting in a classroom to sitting in their bedrooms, a steady decline in engagement, attendance, and motivation began; these are the repercussions of COVID-19 on student learning. It’s been two years since the beginning of the pandemic; how are students’ grades now? Sadly, there is not much improvement. 

The Present Day Struggle

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reviewed the reading and mathematics assessment scores for 9-year-old students (4th graders) and found that the pandemic has essentially “erased two decades of progress in American test scores”. According to their research, the average reading test score declined from 220 in 2020 to 215 in 2022; this is reportedly the largest decline in reading scores since 1990. These are the students who experienced third grade in the pandemic; an important grade as teachers focus on building students’ reading skills. Unfortunately, the pandemic obligated many students to learn how to read through a computer screen.

Still, reading isn’t the only subject where grades worsened for elementary students. The NCES also found that the 2020 average score for math dropped from 241 to 234 for this year; the first-ever score decline for math since the assessment was created in the 1970s. The basics of math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc) are taught in third grade, and the devastating reality of these results is that students are either falling behind in their classes or being held back a grade.

High school students experienced possibly an even more detrimental shift in their academic career. According to a poll done by Washington Post, nearly half of teens from ages 14 to 18 claimed that the pandemic has “worsened their grades”. This is very much seen in an analysis of the students’ grades of the Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, Virginia. They examined the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year for both middle and high school students and found that there was an 83% increase in F’s compared to the 2019-2020 school year’s first grading period. Today, many of those students are now in college and are continuing to struggle as a result of the learning gap caused by the pandemic. According to the New York Times (NYT),the students’ grades have dropped, especially in subjects such as math, which Paulo Lima-Filho, executive director of the Texas A&M University’s math learning center, echos in an interview with NYT; “Students of all kinds seemed to lack sharp foundational math skills and rigorous study habits… (this learning gap) will propagate through the generation of the cohort.”


Many dub these struggling students as the “lost generation” as the damage caused by the pandemic to student learning has been nothing but concerning. There are numerous reasons why students began to fall behind or drop out during the pandemic, but it is now the school administration and policymakers who bear the responsibility of repairing this learning gap. Just this year, California spent $7.9 billion on Learning Recovery Block Grants to extend the school year and provide more instruction for struggling students. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education also announced a $220 Million investment into summer learning and enrichments, such as DiscoverSummer, to help schools and students academically recover and thrive.

Although the long-term consequences of the pandemic on student learning are still unknown, it is never too late to help them get back on track with their education. At Tutor Zone, we are dedicated to recovering academic progress and empowering our students who have struggled as a result of the pandemic. Through both in-person and virtual tutoring, our students will always have a space to rely on for academic support.

By Jess Rivera

Additional Sources Referenced

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