Research on Education Strategies to
Advance Recovery and Turnaround



Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Student Absences, Grades, and Grade Retention

In this research brief, we provide descriptive data on the effect of the pandemic on student absences, course grades, and grade retention in the 2020-21 school year. We also examine how these effects vary across grade levels, at different points of the absence and course grade distribution, and for student subgroups. We find that: (1) On average, students in 2020–21 missed more days of school, performed worse in their courses, and were more likely to be retained in grade in the following year as compared to pre-pandemic peers. (2) The distribution of absences and course grades widened in 2020–21 compared to pre-pandemic years. While many students experienced outcomes in 2020–21 that were similar to their pre-pandemic peers, a small share experienced very high absences and very low course grades. (3) The impact on non-test score outcomes varied across grade levels; middle schoolers experienced larger effects for absences and course grades while high schoolers experienced larger effects on grade retention. (4) Negative impacts tended to be most concentrated among subgroups of students that have historically experienced educational disadvantage, including Black, Hispanic, and economically disadvantaged students as well as students with disabilities and English learners. These results can inform efforts to support students in re-engaging with school and improving their academic outcomes.

Education Policy Initiative at Carolina
Sarah Crittenden Fuller, Tom Swiderski, Camille Mikkelsen, Kevin C. Bastian, & John McDonnell
Date Display
December 2022