New Online Learning Study Predicts Widening Achievement Gap

Most school districts have transitioned to online learning due to the covid-19 pandemic. But the quality of education varies widely from one district to another. Well-funded districts likely already had a substantial online learning presence, and at least some staff and educators who had experience in remote teaching. In contrast, districts with more limited funding may struggle to develop and implement an effective online platform. Further, many students in these less well-off districts may have their own difficulties, due to lack of access to broadband internet, a computer, or a quiet place at home to do their lessons. 

A recent study sheds light on this inequity. Real-time data for 1.6 million students across 1,364 districts engaged in remote instruction since schools were forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic shows that students are on track to lose up to 49% (about 5 months) of their potential reading growth by the start of next school year. In addition, this study revealed that the achievement gap between students from lower- and higher-income schools is predicted to widen by up to 18%.

These and other findings and recommendations for change were released today in a new study by the Successful Practices Network and the Center for College & Career Readiness. Researchers have identified the following trends from the 1,364 districts it observed:


  • 76% of schools showed decreased usage after schools closed
    Schools differed widely in how quickly and how well they made the transition to online learning. Overall, however, the number of students logging in has declined by 43% and the number of students completing at least one lesson has declined by 44%.
  • Students are on track to lose up to 49% of gains over the summer
    Based on early data, it appears that school closures as a result of the coronavirus crisis will lead to a significant loss of potential learning gains, as 28%, for many students come June 2020.
  • Worst case prediction for a widening of the achievement gap is 18%
    The achievement gap has already begun to grow in the six weeks since schools moved to online learning. The achievement gap between low- and high-income students is expected to increase by as much as 18% for students from low-income schools by the end of this school year.
  • Struggling readers on track to fall behind their peers by an additional 6%
    It is already clear that struggling readers are not using online learning as frequently as advanced readers, placing them at risk of falling further behind. The study shows that the gap between struggling and advanced readers is predicted to grow by up to an additional 6% by the end of this school year.
  • Some districts are succeeding with online learning
    Despite the challenges, there are success stories. The study revealed many examples of districts that transitioned almost seamlessly between school-based and online instruction. For these districts, levels of usage of Achieve3000 Literacy after the school closures are about on par with usage before the school closures.

The consortium provides a number of recommendations for educators based on the trends observed in the study:

  • Plan now for next year
    Many schools were unprepared to make the transition to online instruction. In order to avoid similar rates of learning loss in future years, schools will want to begin trouble-shooting their existing implementation of online learning tools and resources and planning for improvements that can be implemented by the start of the next school year.
  • Catch up over summer
    The summer slide has already commenced. Using the summer in a meaningful way will be critical to make sure students begin the next school year where they would have been had schools not closed early.
  • Mind the gap
    Students who fall at or below the 25th percentile in reading are going to fall further behind their peers. Providing access to robust online learning resources that include scaffolds and other supports specifically designed to accelerate reading growth is imperative.
  • Build a new skill
    Online learning is now a career skill that needs to be mastered by both educators and students. There must be a transition “teaching and learning onsite or remotely” to “a technology-enabled approach to all teaching and learning.”

To view the full research brief, Impact of School Closures on Student Learning, visit acheive3000.