Pandemic Schooling Mode and Student Test Scores: Evidence from US States

Discussion Paper

Clare Halloran, Rebecca Jack, James Okun, and Emily Oster

November 2021

COVID-19 has greatly disrupted schooling over the past two years, forcing districts to repeatedly switch between learning modes (in-person, hybrid, and distance learning). Despite some research comparing overall pre-pandemic outcomes to learning during the pandemic, no prior research had investigated how outcomes vary by schooling mode.

In this paper, the authors estimate the impact of district-level schooling mode on test scores. Combining Spring 2021 state standardized test score data with comprehensive data on schooling in the 2020-21 school year across 12 states, this research finds that pass rates declined compared to prior years. Notably, these declines were larger in districts with less in-person instruction. Passing rates in math declined by 14.2 percentage points on average; we estimate this decline was 10.1 percentage points smaller for districts fully in-person. Changes in English language arts scores were smaller, but were significantly larger in districts with larger populations of students who are Black, Hispanic or eligible for free and reduced price lunch.