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Tennessee education department says student learning loss due to school closures

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Tennessee gov. virtual learning photo

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday that students are experiencing more of a learning loss this year compared to most summers.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee Department of Education released estimated data Wednesday regarding learning loss for Tennessee students during the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming it as a result from pandemic-related school closures through the summer months.

Preliminary data projects an estimated 50% decrease in proficiency rates in third grade reading and a projected 65% decrease in proficiency in math. 

“This data highlights the immense challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has created for our students and educators,” Lee said. “The vast majority of students learn best in person with their teacher, and we’ll continue to help provide a safe environment for Tennessee students to get their educational journeys back on track.” 

While many students traditionally experience learning loss over the summer, projections show that learning loss from the time schools closed in March through the summer is expected to be 2.5 times that of a normal summer rate, according to the state. Projections were developed in partnership with national researchers using historical, Tennessee-specific data to provide additional learning loss estimates based on the extended school closures. 

“We know that increased time away from school has negative implications for students, which is compounded during extended building closures,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. “The department is focused on ensuring we provide essential services and resources to mitigate learning loss and keep students on a path to success this new school year.” 

According to the state, the learning loss impacts early grades more than later grades, placing these students further behind in the learning trajectory as they progress through school. Students with lower proficiency rates are also disproportionately impacted by learning loss, further exacerbating existing achievement gaps.

Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on the economics of education shows that each additional year of schooling increases life income by an average of 7.5-10%. The OECD study asserts that a loss of one-third of a year in effective learning for just the students affected by the closures of early 2020 will, by historical data, lower a country’s GDP by an average of 1.5% over the remainder of the century.

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