“The pandemic hit everyone, but it hit kids who were already vulnerable hardest,” said the lead author of the report prepared by McKinsey & Co., a consulting firm, using assessment data.,


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U.S. students ended the pandemic school year 4 to 5 months behind, a new report finds.

A kindergarten teacher conducted class with in-person and remote students at Walter P. Carter Elementary School in Baltimore, M.D., in November.Credit…Rosem Morton for The New York Times

July 27, 2021, 10:39 a.m. ET

Elementary school students in the United States ended the 2020-21 school year four to five months behind where they normally would have been in academic achievement, according to a report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. that was released Tuesday. It found that many of the most vulnerable students experienced the steepest setbacks.

The new report — based on assessments taken by more than 1.6 million elementary school students who had returned to the classroom in the spring — is the latest indication that students who were already experiencing educational inequities were also hit hardest by the crisis.

For example, students attending schools whose student bodies were mainly Black or Hispanic ended the school year six months behind where they normally would have been in math, compared with four months behind for students in mainly white schools.

Similarly, students who attended a school where the average household income was less than $25,000 a year were seven months behind in math by the end of the term, compared with four months behind for schools where the average income was greater than $75,000.

“The pandemic hit everyone, but it hit kids who were already vulnerable hardest,” said Emma Dorn, an associate partner at McKinsey and the lead author of the report.

“That really widens some of the pre-existing opportunity and achievement gaps we were already facing in our country,” Ms. Dorn said.

Researchers used data provided by Curriculum Associates, an assessment company, and compared student performance this spring to the performance of demographically similar groups in the springs of 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The disparities probably reflect a number of factors, including less access to technology, higher rates of Covid-19 and higher unemployment in low-income communities and communities of color, and the fact that schools in major cities tended to stay longer with remote instruction. The report found that students in more urban schools experienced greater setbacks than those at rural schools, which generally returned to in-person learning sooner.

“You can’t look at the results in a vacuum,” said Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, who called on schools to use federal funding to hire additional employees and devise individualized recovery plans for every student.

“If you have one teacher with 33 kids, that is not going to be a recipe for addressing this problem,” he said.