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Exclusive AP analysis reveals pandemic learning setbacks

A student attends a remote class at home in Lake Oswego, Ore., Oct. 30, 2020. An AP analysis on pandemic test scores found the average student lost more than half a school year of learning in math and nearly a quarter of a school year in reading – with some district averages slipping by more than double those amounts, or worse. (AP Photo / Sara Cline)

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Accountability reporter Bianca Vázquez Toness and data reporter Sharon Lurye, both members of AP’s Education team, used access to the first district-by-district breakdown of pandemic test scores to report on massive learning setbacks during the pandemic. Harvard and Stanford researchers offered the AP exclusive access to the data because they knew of AP’s reach into local newsrooms around the U.S.

This was an opportunity for AP to show the power of its new Education Reporting Network. Lurye analyzed the data, and AP shared her insights in advance with 24 newsrooms whose schools performed especially well or alarmingly poorly. All these newsrooms would have the opportunity to publish the data as the embargo lifted, putting the national scoop in front of audiences who could most push for local and state accountability.

Lurye’s analysis required tremendous speed and accuracy, as data was delayed or updated on deadline. And Toness incisively summarized the national implications of the data: the scope of the pandemic’s disruption in kids’ lives, from the shortcomings of online learning to the trauma and chaos many American kids lived through, especially poor children. The evidence suggests many children need significant intervention — soon. One Tennessee parent told Toness his kids “weren’t engaged at all” in pandemic learning. “It was all tomfoolery.”

AP’s outreach continued with a Localize It guide that shared the data and analysis with all U.S. members, many of whom are producing their own stories. Said Harvard’s Thomas Kane: “It was thrilling to see the AP’s role as both convener and information intermediary. I’ve never seen the power of this model before now.”

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