In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts across the United States were forced to close their physical schools and rapidly switch to virtual learning. In this study, Jennifer Darling-Aduana, Tim Sass, and Henry Woodyard examine patterns in student engagement and achievement associated with the enactment of crisis-driven virtual schooling in a metro-Atlanta school district during the fall 2020 semester. To accomplish this, they used data from student records, standardized assessments, and course progress information gathered by the digital learning systems used throughout the district. Overall, students logged substantially fewer hours a week in virtual learning applications than expected based on schedules for traditional face-to-face instruction prior to the pandemic. Despite generally deflated weekly achievement growth compared to expected pre-pandemic trends, students who logged more hours virtually experienced higher rates of student achievement growth throughout the semester—with time logged in programs with student-directed, interactive assignments associated with the largest gains in growth. They also identified variability in usage patterns by subgroup with students identified as female logging significantly more time across many applications than students identified as male. Students identified as Black also logged more time in synchronous meetings than students identified as White. Consequently, the pandemic “learning gap” might be more accurately portrayed as an “opportunity gap” due to less access to educational experiences.
Through this research, they aim to provide a benchmark and insights into how to best provide students equitable access to quality virtual engagement opportunities. Moreover, ensuring students have equitable access to the resources needed to learn in this way is an important policy consideration.
Darling-Aduana, Jennifer; Sass, Tim; and Woodyard, Henry, "Virtual Learning Trends During the COVID-19 Pandemic" (2021). GPL Policy Briefs. 33.