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Education Recovery Scoreboard

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New research: WA slow on math/reading recovery

How to use remaining fed recovery funds to close gap

Public school students in King County, like most counties around Washington state, have yet to catch up with pandemic shut-down losses in math and reading, according to new research by the Education Recovery Scorecard, a collaboration between the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University. Researchers are urging state and district leaders to use what’s left of federal relief funding to over tutoring and summer classes to get kids back on track.

New report and recommendations

This month, the research collaborative issued a report on the first year of academic recovery for school districts in 30 states, including Washington.

Although students here made gains in math and reading during the 2022-23 school year, the researchers say that as a cohort, they made up only one-third of the pandemic loss in math and one-quarter of the loss in reading. It is unlikely that kids will catch up to pre-pandemic academic levels before pandemic recovery funding ends in September. The study also points out that recovery efforts “are not closing the gaps between high- and low-poverty districts, which widened during the pandemic.”

“No one wants to see poor kids footing the bill for the pandemic, but that is the path Washington is on,” Dr. Thomas Kane, Faculty Director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, said in a release. Kane is one of the study’s co-authors. “With federal relief dollars drying up, state leaders must ensure the remaining dollars are used for Summer 2024 and for tutoring and after-school next year.”

Education Recovery Scorecard

Source: Education Recovery Scorecard

Big learning gaps in this state

The new research found that in Washington:

  • Between 2019 and 2022, achievement fell by 58% of a grade equivalent in math and 36% in reading.
  • Disparities still persist across the state. Higher poverty districts such as Highline, Yakima, and Auburn lost a full grade equivalent or more in math between 2019 and 2022. Meanwhile, the higher-income districts of Bellevue, Issaquah, and Northshore lost a third or less of a grade equivalent in math achievement and reading; those three districts actually improved during the pandemic.
  • For Washington, academic recovery barely began last year. Between 2022 and 2023, math achievement improved by 9% of a grade equivalent, and reading achievement actually declined by an additional 3% of a grade equivalent.
  • If students in Washington continue recovering at last year’s rate, students will require an additional five years to return to 2019 levels in math.
  • Washington received over $2.8 billion in federal recovery funding, and as of January 2024, it still had over $398 million (14%) remaining.


Over the course of the 2022-2023 school year, students in one state (Alabama) returned to pre-pandemic achievement levels in math. Many states, including Washington, remain more than a third of a grade level behind 2019 levels in math and reading. 

Kane said, “Many schools made strong gains last year, but most districts are still working hard just to reach pre-pandemic achievement levels.”

As of January,  $51 billion of the $190 billion in aid Congress provided to K-12 schools across the country is still available. But that money must be used by September of this year. If not, it goes back to the federal government). 

Education Recovery Scorecard

Source: Education Recovery Scorecard

What to do about it

In their new report, Education Recovery Scorecard researchers advise districts with remaining funds to take the following steps as that deadline approaches:

  1. This spring, schools should inform parents if their child is below grade level in math or English so that parents have time to enroll in summer learning. Parents cannot advocate if they are misinformed. Research shows that parents take specific actions when they know their child is behind grade level.
  2. Schools should expand summer learning seats this summer. States should require districts to set aside sufficient funds to accept all students who sign up. Research has shown that six weeks of summer learning produces a fourth of a year of learning, especially in math.
  3. Districts can extend the recovery efforts into the next school year by contracting for high-quality tutoring and after-school programs before September. Although the federal relief dollars cannot be used to pay school employee salaries after September, they can be used to make payments on contracts that are signed before the deadline. (Click here to see the U.S. Department of Education’s recent guidance on seeking an extension. For ideas on how to tie contractor payments to student outcomes, see the Outcomes-Based Contracting project at the Southern Education Foundation.)
  4. Local government, employers, and community leaders should get involved in helping schools lower student absenteeism, which has remained high since the pandemic.

Find out how your district is doing:

The King and Pierce counties are home to 35 school districts and in many of them, students have still not returned to pre-pandemic math and reading achievement. To find out what’s happening in your district, go to the Education Recovery Scoreboard’s Washington page. Scroll down to click on your district.

Read more:

Stop student isolation and restraint in schools

School funding: Hold the state accountable

Free, local online learning for kids

State trust funds for low-income babies?

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