Impact of COVID-19

Speculation about the impact of COVID-19 and learning from home on student academic achievement has been widespread, relying heavily on evidence from previous crisis situations. As a result, we’ve seen school systems and governments draw on modelling from international, short-term, small-scale disruptions to schooling caused by dramatic events, such as natural disasters and school shootings. However, the size and scale of disruption caused by COVID-19 is truly unprecedented. To date, there has been little empirical evidence of what actually happened to student achievement during the closedown period.

Our study is one of the earliest globally to contribute important first-hand evidence by:

  1. examining the effects on students (achievement in mathematics and reading, attitudes to schooling and well-being) of the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  2. investigating changes to teacher efficacy and morale during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of a randomised controlled trial on the effects of Quality Teaching Rounds professional development, we ran Progressive Achievement Tests in mathematics and reading in Terms 1 and 4 of 2019 and Term 1 of 2020. When the pandemic disrupted this study, we were uniquely placed to assess impact on student achievement by repeating the tests in Term 4, 2020.

Our sample included 3,030 Year 3 and 4 students from 97 NSW government schools, matched on demographic information and initial student test results.

Key Findings

Somewhat surprisingly, given widespread speculation about ‘learning loss’, our whole sample analysis found no significant differences between the 2019 control group and 2020 cohort in student growth in mathematics or reading.

Behind this headline result is a more complex picture when analysed by school-level advantage (ICSEA), year level, school location and student Aboriginality.

  • No significant differences between 2019 and 2020 cohorts for Year 3 or Year 4 in maths or reading
  • No significant differences for Indigenous students
  • No significant differences for regional students
  • Year 3 students in less advantaged schools achieved less growth in mathematics in 2020 compared to 2019
  • Year 3 students in mid-range ICSEA schools achieved more growth in mathematics in 2020 than in 2019
  • Significant drop in teacher morale
  • Negative effects on teacher well being
  • Negative effects on student well being

We also examined student and teacher wellbeing using student surveys and teacher and principal surveys and interviews. These data raise substantial concerns about the impact of COVID-19 disruptions to schooling on the wellbeing of both students and teachers.

Read the report


The impact of COVID-19 on student learning in New South Wales primary schools: an empirical study (2021)

Remote learning didn’t affect most NSW primary students in our study academically. But well-being suffered. The Conversation (2021)

In the news

My message to parents: Don’t panic, remote learning is OK for most kids - SMH

Students went OK despite the pandemic - Newcastle Herald

Student outcomes did not go backwards in 2020 - new study - The Educator

Principals agree remote learning hurt student progress - Education HQ

Gratitude can do wonders for teacher wellbeing - The Educator

Student results improve when teachers get extra training - ABC Radio Newcastle

TER Podcast - The impact of COVID with Jenny Gore

COVID coaches: tutoring only works when backed by quality teaching directed at the students who really missed out - AARE

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