The number of students who accessed digital assignments from their teacher plummeted in many states, with the loss largely concentrated in high-poverty schools.

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Remote learning expanded dramatically due to the pandemic, but the number of students who accessed digital assignments from their teacher plummeted in many states, with the loss largely concentrated in high-poverty schools, according to a report by the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University.

Fifty-seven million students were affected by pandemic-related school closures in the United States. To measure the impact of the move to digitally based learning, the Marron Institute used anonymized data from one of the largest ed-tech providers, ReadWorks, which has over 1.2 million educators actively using its platform.

New signups by K-12 educators increased by 261 percent since the start of school closures in mid-March, and there was a 157 percent increase in new assignments made on the ReadWorks platform, compared with 2019. While 35 percent of educators actively used ReadWorks (assigning materials to their students digitally, rather than in print or projecting) pre-COVID, the figure grew to 62 percent post-COVID.

The report found that despite such skyrocketing teacher and student digital enrollments, many school districts experienced a decrease in the number of students accessing assignments. The number of K‍–‍12 students who had previously accessed a digital assignment made by their teacher fell by an average 19 percentage points nationally after the closing of their school, compared with 2019. In the states with the most substantial reductions, the number of students who accessed a digital assignment from their teacher dropped by 30 percentage points or more, including in Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia, according to the report, titled “Learning Disparities During COVID-19.”

Mississippi had the largest decline, a 36 percentage-point reduction.

The researchers found that the states with the smallest reductions in digital access by their students since the closures—by 10 percentage points at most—were Florida, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The data examined for the report comprised more than 256 million student assignments.

“The data afford a high-resolution view of digital access since the pandemic-related school closures,” said Marron Institute director Angela Hawken, lead author of the report. “Our results can be used to set priorities for the distribution of digital resources to support communities most affected by education losses and support an equitable allocation of remedial-instruction resources.”

High-poverty schools, those in which at least 75 percent of students qualify for the National School Lunch Program, bore the starkest consequences of the move to online learning, reflecting a growing disparity nationally in digital access.

Fifteen states had at least a 30 percentage-point reduction in the number of students from high-poverty schools accessing their assignments: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. High-poverty schools in Hawaii had the largest reductions: pre-COVID, more than two-thirds of students accessed an assignment made by their teacher there; that fell to about 1 in 8 students in Hawaii, post-COVID.

While pre-existing learning gaps have been magnified since COVID, the report also points to active steps ed-tech non-profits like ReadWorks are taking to help close the gap, for example, by providing print and off-line modes.


About the NYU Marron Institute:

The NYU Marron Institute conducts innovative applied research, working with cities to take on critical challenges in urban living. Visit


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