A research team led by UC Berkeley’s School of Education, UC San Diego, the California Department of Education and the Public Policy Institute of California, or PPIC, has received a $3 million federal grant to study post-pandemic learning recovery in California’s school system.
Co-principal investigator Niu Gao from PPIC has spent the past few years researching the impact of COVID-19 on education, finding a loss in student learning and decreasing test scores. Additionally, Gao noted an impact on students’ social-emotional and mental health that education systems need to address.
“The pandemic effectively wiped out or erased two decades of academic progress in math and English,” Gao said. “The magnitude of learning loss is just stunning. From that perspective, it’s really important that we try to understand learning recovery.”
Learning recovery, or steps that can be taken to recover learning loss, has been promoted by the state of California through a $4.6 billion Expanded Learning Opportunities, or ELO, grant, according to the grant proposal. Gao’s research team will be studying how districts have used ELO grant funding as well as where improvements can be made.
After starting earlier this September, the team’s grant funding will extend for three years, according to Gao. During this time, data from public records of California school districts and case studies conducted in the districts themselves will be analyzed.
“We hope this will be the first comprehensive study that can pinpoint learning recovery efforts across the state and improve recovery efforts in our state,” Gao said.
Currently, the team is setting up research infrastructure as well as identifying districts to be selected for case studies, according to Gao.
The team will also study how to improve equitable access to resources in public education. In her previous research, Gao noted that some of the widest gaps in learning were among students in marginalized groups, noting a 13-point drop in test scores for Black students.
UC Berkeley School of Education professor Lisa García Bedolla also noted that the pandemic has deepened preexisting inequities in resources, making vulnerable students even less likely to get necessary support from schools and teachers.
“I would hope that this analysis of the ELO investments and their impacts will help districts know how best to invest future resources to address inequities among students and ensure equitable educational opportunities for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, ethnoracial background, and learning styles,” Bedolla said in an email.
The research team will be writing intermittent reports throughout the study, according to Gao.
Bedolla said she expects that the team’s work will most likely culminate in a set of “best practices” for school administrators and district leaders to learn from. It will likely also include advice on how state investments should be targeted to support vulnerable students, Bedolla added.
The findings will be shared with the California Department of Education, the California State Board of Education, local school districts and the general public, the grant proposal noted.
“Because of that academic setback as well as the mental health crisis, it’s really imperative that we focus on learning recovery and trying to improve recovery efforts so we can actually help students get back on track,” Gao said.