Georgia Policy Labs Reports

The Academic Outcomes of English Learners Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Academic Outcomes of English Learners Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

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K. Juree Capers:


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While the COVID-19 pandemic had adverse effects on all students’ learning, English Learners (EL) faced heightened challenges due to access to virtual learning, lack of digitally adaptable teaching strategies most useful for developing English language skills, and familial language and digital literacy barriers that hampered family-school district engagement. In this report, K. Jurée Capers and Camila Morales use student-level achievement data to investigate the learning impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the EL student population. We compare EL students’ actual individual test scores in math and reading with predictions of their scores had the pandemic never occurred to observe the learning impact of the pandemic.

Our analysis reveals that the pandemic had a larger effect on EL students’ achievement than English-proficient students, particularly in math. However, not all EL students were equally impacted. The pandemic had a larger effect on refugee EL students’ math and reading achievement than U.S.-born and economic-migrant EL students and a larger effect on Asian EL students compared to Black and Hispanic EL students. There were, however, minimal gender differences in achievement among EL students. Communication in students’ home language was somewhat helpful in minimizing the reading achievement loss during the initial year of the pandemic, but this did not meaningfully impact EL achievement overall.

Although most policy and programs treat ELs as a monolith, our results show unequal impacts of the pandemic that vary across students’ immigrant backgrounds, length of stay in the U.S., and race/ethnicity. Therefore, funding and policy responses aimed at boosting academic outcomes for EL students should consider the diversity of this group and equip educators to meet their varied learning needs. Our findings on math achievement underscore the need to provide effective access to core content instruction for EL students alongside English language development.



Report, brief, and appendix posted at link.

The Academic Outcomes of English Learners Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic