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The COVID Learning Loss Explained

Teachers say fewer students are on track to reach grade level because of the disease outbreak.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted learning to such an extent that “the future of an entire generation is at stake.”1 And according to UNESCO, UNICEF, and The World Bank, that is not hyperbole.

“This generation of students now risks losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value, or the equivalent of 14% of today’s global GDP, as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures,” the organizations report in The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery.2


Understanding learning loss can help stakeholders address this critical issue.

What Is Learning Loss?

Before the coronavirus outbreak, learning loss was frequently discussed as a result of the summer school break. According to a Brookings article, research into what’s also called the “summer slide” shows that “on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning.”3 Since COVID-19, school closures, remote learning, absenteeism, and educational inequities have greatly impacted students’ progress.

How Are Students Doing?

The EdWeek Research Center surveyed a sampling of U.S. teachers in December 2021 about student progress and potential learning loss. According to the results, 69% of respondents said they’re less confident than before the pandemic that they can help students reach grade level by the end of the 2021–22 school year.4

“Many noted that even in a normal year, 100% of students don’t reach grade level by June. But moving the needle is tougher now,” EdWeek reported.4

At the elementary school level, teachers said that on average, 49% of students were reading at grade level, an almost 16% drop from winter 2019. In math, 53% were at grade level, a 13% decline.4

McKinsey & Company researchers looked at learning loss among high school students and called the findings “sobering.”5 Using data from states with a 90% or higher participation rate in a spring 2021 assessment, researchers found that “the proportion of students meeting proficiency standards dropped by an average of 5 percentage points in math and 3 percentage points in English language arts.”5

Reversing the COVID Slide

Effectively addressing the COVID-19 learning loss will take dedication, innovation, funding, and leadership. The UNICEF, UNESCO, and World Bank reports says, “Countries should put in place Learning Recovery Programs with the objective of assuring that students of this generation attain at least the same competencies of the previous generation.”2

If you want to be part of the solution, helping to craft education policy and provide leadership at the highest level, a doctorate in education can help build the foundation you need.

Walden University’s PhD in Education online degree program offers multiple specializations so you can tailor your studies to your professional goals. Options include:

  • Higher Education Leadership, Management, and Policy: In this doctoral degree specialization, you’ll learn effective educational leadership and management skills and strategies that you can use to facilitate positive social change.
  • Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy: Focus your education PhD studies on the latest research to understand the family, cultural, societal, and developmental influences that affect child development and learning.
  • Early Childhood Special Education: In this education doctorate online degree program specialization, you’ll prepare to conduct continued research on best practices for early intervention in the special education field.
  • Curriculum, Instruction, Assessment, and Evaluation: When you choose this doctoral degree specialization, you’ll gain skills to design, modify, and evaluate curriculum and assessment practices using a systems approach.

Walden, No. 1 in education professional doctoral and PhD graduates in the U.S.,6 offers an online doctorate degree program designed for working professionals. Walden puts flexibility and support at your fingertips.

The accredited university offers education PhD candidates a variety of Student Support Services and tools that include the Writing Center, the Walden Library, doctoral writing workshops, and the interactive Doctoral Degree Coach™.

And with Walden’s flexible online learning platform, you can earn your PhD without pausing your career. With a laptop and an internet connection, you can work on your doctoral research when and where it’s convenient for you.

Earning a doctoral degree online can prepare you to advance your career in educational leadership, research, consulting, policymaking, or teaching—and make a lasting contribution.

Walden University offers a PhD in Education online degree program with multiple specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

6Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Based on the most recent year of completions survey data available, using all classifications of instructional programs (CIP) codes. A doctoral research degree is a PhD or other doctoral degree that requires advanced work beyond the master’s level, including the preparation and defense of a dissertation based on original research or the planning and execution of an original project demonstrating substantial scholarly achievement. Available at (Retrieved July 2018; may consist of or include provisional release data.)

Note on teacher licensure or certification: This PhD in Education program does not lead to teacher licensure or certification. Teachers are advised to contact their individual school districts as to whether this program may qualify for salary advancement.

Prospective Alabama students: State authorization to provide a program related to the preparation of teachers or other P–12 school/system personnel does not indicate eligibility for an Alabama professional educator or professional leadership certificate. Applicants who complete an educator preparation program at a non-Alabama institution must apply for an Alabama professional educator or professional leadership certificate through the Alabama Certificate Reciprocity Approach. Current requirements may be found at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,