Report: COVID-19 Hit More Vulnerable Schools Hardest

by Scott McClallen


A new report found that only 12% of educators in some schools believed students would complete the 2020-21 school year proficient in math, English Language Arts, science, or social studies.

That’s according to Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) report that found Partnership districts were hit harder by COVID-19 as they remained remote longer than schools in more affluent areas.

This report is part of a multi-year evaluation of Michigan’s Partnership Model district that aims to improve outcomes in the lowest-performing schools by serving districts’ specific needs. If these goals aren’t met by the end of the three years, the schools could close.

Absenteeism was already a problem in Partnership schools, but remote learning appeared to exacerbate it. Partnership school teachers reported that 27% to 46% of students were absent each day, while principals estimated 32% to 51% of students were absent on a given day. Absenteeism appeared to be worse in Partnership than in non-Partnership schools; teachers and principals in non-Partnership schools reported that 18% to 35% and 19% to 38% of students were absent each day, respectively.

The report found only 15% to 16% of educators believed that their students began the 2020-21 school year on track.

When identified, about 60% to 62% of students in Partnership high schools were graduating in four years. That’s nearly 20 percentage points below the state average. At that time, the statewide dropout rate was about 10% compared to Partnership school dropout rates of 18.7% of Cohort 1 students and 20.7% of Cohort 2.

While in the first two years of Partnerships schools, on-time graduation rates increased from 62% to 63% in 2017-18 and 67% in the following year, but in the 2019-20 school year, that progress fell to 64%.

State Superintendent Michael Rice said the drop in graduation rates is disappointing.

“It is disappointing that graduation rates in cohort one districts decreased after showing increases during the first two years of their Partnership agreements,” Rice wrote. “This decrease could be linked to health care, housing instability and student attendance issues that faced Partnership districts because of the pandemic.”

Kindergarten enrollment in 2020-21 plummeted by 38% and 27% in Cohort 1 and 2 Partnership schools, respectively.

Even non-Partnership schools proficiency suffered during COVID-19. Statewide assessment results for 2021 show declines in the number of students meeting or exceeding grade-level standards compared to 2019 after a year of virtual learning and disruptions from COVID-19.

Only 28.6% of students tested proficient or above in sixth-grade math, down from 35.1% in 2019. In third-grade math, 42.3% of students tested proficient, compared to 46.7% in 2019. About 42.8% of third-graders passed the English language arts test, down from 45.1% in 2019. In 11th-grade math, proficiency dropped from 36.3% in 2019 to 34.5%, while eighth-grade math proficiency rates dropped from 41.4% in 2019 to 36%.

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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on and Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.



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