Learning loss is being experienced. As Table 3 indicates, the early findings of seven studies provide evidence of experienced learning losses among students. These observed losses are occurring across a range of subjects, grade levels, and geographical regions. This signals that although robust and empirical research on Covid-19-related student learning loss is limited, learning loss itself may not be.
Not all students are experiencing learning loss. While the majority of the literature analyzed indicates that students are experiencing some level of learning loss, there were also instances where this was not the case. For example, both Maldonado and De Witte (2020) as well as Kuhfeld et al. (2020) found learning losses in certain subjects but insignificant impacts in others. Likewise, while Tomasik et al. (2020) found primary students to be impacted, they found no impact on secondary students. This is consistent with the literature showing that students in the early grades may be more vulnerable than secondary students because of their inability to seek learning on their own, due to the differences in developmental and cognitive abilities. In their Australian study, Gore et al. (2021) found there to be no evidence of overall learning loss in Year 3 and 4 students in math and reading with the exceptions being Year 3 students in math in low-ICSEA schools who experienced losses, while mid-ICSEA students experienced small gains. Last, in the case of Gonzalez et al. (2020) who studied university students in Spain, it was determined that student learning progress actually improved rather than declined during the Covid-19 learning disruption period, but this was for university students in STEM subjects at one university.
Some students are experiencing more learning loss than others. Of the eight studies, four found instances of inequality, while only one found demographics exclusively to have no impact on learning loss. Gore et al. (2021) found instances of increased inequality as well as instances of no change. The other studies did not specify in this area or in the case of Kuhfeld et al. (2020) found inconclusive and minor differences between ethnic or racial groups. In the four studies where increases in inequality were observed, certain demographics of students experienced losses more significant than others. Maldonado and De Witte (2020) observed inequality within schools rise by 17 percent for math and 20 percent for Dutch. Engzell et al. (2021) determined that losses were up to 60 percent larger among students from uneducated homes. Gore et al. (2021) found the only losses to be among students from low-ICSEA schools where the lower the ICSEA level the lower the educational advantage attending students have due to their parents’ occupation and education, their geographical location, and the school’s proportion of indigenous students (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2014). Schult et al. (2021) found losses in math among Grade 5 students to be more severe in low achieving students. In reading comprehension, Schult et al. (2021) found more severe losses among middle- to high-achieving students.
More research is needed. In general, the literature representing the impact that Covid-19 has had on student learning progress is limited in the quantity of studies available, geographical regions analyzed, and number of participating students. Given the novelty of the subject, it is understandable why education researchers are only just beginning to analyze the learning losses that students have experienced. However, a stronger understanding of how Covid-19 school disruptions have impacted student learning is still needed. To support this, more studies are needed.
Along with this, the current studies that are available are limited in their geographical span. The only limited information that is currently available is from Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, the United States, and Australia. Given the differences in educational institutions between countries, in terms of quality, length of school closures, and remote-learning strategies, it is crucial that researchers continue to investigate Covid-19-related learning loss in countries where limited research exists.
Last, many of the studies themselves who were analyzed in this systematic review had limited numbers of participants. For example, Gonzalez et al. (2020) analyzed just 458 students at one university. Similarly, Orlov et al. (2020) observed economics students in just seven classes across four universities. While the information these studies presented remains relevant to their observed samples, research that can more accurately represent larger groups of students remains crucial to policy-makers. As such, there is a demand for studies that analyze representative groups of students.