New Research from Curriculum Associates: Student Achievement Shows Concerns and Bright Spots in Recovery—More Students Are Behind in Phonics but Some Schools Are Exceeding Expectations

NORTH BILLERICA, Mass. — While more students are falling behind in foundational reading skills, some schools buck the trend with positive practice in the pandemic’s wake, according to new research released by Curriculum Associates today. 

The first report, The State of Student Learning in  2022, analyzes reading and mathematics data gathered from nearly two million Grades 1–8 students during the 2021–2022 school year via the edtech company’s i-Ready Assessment tool. In a second report, Keys to Unlocking Success, Curriculum Associates identified 301 schools across the country at which students are exceeding learning expectations and conducted research to understand how school leaders are ushering their students and schools toward recovery.  

“We’re beginning the third full academic year since the pandemic began, and many school communities are still grappling with the impact of the massive 2020 disruptions,” said Dr. Kristen Huff, vice president of assessment and research at Curriculum Associates. “The question is no longer if or howthe pandemic affected student learning, it is if and how it can recover. It is critical to grow our understanding of what measurable shifts have occurred in student learning as we have more distance from 2020 and more investment in recovery efforts.” 

The research provides new insights on student learning trends by examining student data in relation to grade-level learning benchmarks—rather than in comparison to other students—to provide a unique view of learning rather than rank. It compares 2021–2022 student data with mid- and pre-pandemic data and also offers qualitative insights on impactful practices for accelerating student learning from leaders at schools that are exceeding expectations. 


  • Student achievement in reading and math at the end of 2021–2022 has not fully recovered from unfinished learning that occurred during the pandemic. 
  • Across Grades 1–8 in 2021–2022, achievement in reading and math for students below grade level was still below pre-pandemic averages. 
  • The largest gaps in grade-level learning are in those key years where students are building and solidifying foundational reading and math skills. 
  • Reading: Fewer early elementary students are on target for meeting grade-level expectations in phonics, and more students are below grade level than before the pandemic.  
  • Mathematics: Throughout Grades K–8, fewer students are placing Early On Grade Level and above in math than prior to the pandemic. Students in upper elementary and lower middle school grades showed the greatest persisting setbacks in 2022.  
  • Recovery is occurring, with student learning in some areas approaching pre-pandemic levels. 
  • The number of middle school students who are on grade level for reading is approaching pre-pandemic levels. 
  • In math, student achievement in all grades is still below pre-pandemic levels. Fourth grade students, who suffered the largest drop between 2020 and 2021 in at or above grade level learning, are making the greatest gains in the past year. 
  • In some schools, students two or more grade levels below are exceeding expectations and experiencing more substantial learning growth. 
  • Curriculum Associates identified 301 schools, from a database of almost 5,000, that are beating the odds.  
  • From a sampling of these schools, Curriculum Associates researchers observed six major themes related to promising school leadership practices that help influence student success: cultivating educator mindsets that support student success, creating a culture of data, prioritizing the needs of the whole child, creating an engaging and inspiring school environment, providing resources and supports that enhance teacher practice, and engaging families for a strong school and home connection.  

The research shows that there are particular and critical points in students’ math and reading journeys where they are finding it harder to catch up. Student learning in the critical years of foundational learning—early elementary reading and upper elementary and early middle school mathematics—suffered the greatest setback, with more students falling behind in building essential reading skills that they will need for the rest of their school years and lives. Additionally, students who were further behind before the pandemic are on the slowest trajectory to catch up to grade-level expectations. While data indicates improvements in achievement for historically marginalized students from spring 2021 to spring 2022, the learning inequities that existed long before and were exacerbated by the pandemic persist.   

“Continuing to tell the story of the pandemic’s impact on student learning and schools’ recovery is essential,” said Tyrone Holmes, chief inclusion officer at Curriculum Associates. “Our communities and parents need and deserve to know how our students are progressing academically, our education leaders need to know how their schools compare to trends across the nation and hear stories of recovery, and the research community needs to continue to track the true impact to inform policy making.” 

To learn more about Curriculum Associates’ ongoing research on student learning, visit 

About Curriculum Associates 

Founded in 1969, Curriculum Associates, LLC designs research-based print and online instructional materials, screens and assessments, and data management tools. The company’s products and outstanding customer service provide teachers and administrators with the resources necessary for teaching diverse student populations and fostering learning for all students. 

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