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Perspective from Lawrence O. Gostin, JD
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
April 16, 2021
2 min read
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Dutch students ‘made little or no progress’ during COVID-19 lockdown

Perspective from Lawrence O. Gostin, JD
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.
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Researchers said they found “clear evidence” that students in the Netherlands learned less while schools were closed during the COVID-19 lockdown.

An assessment of standardized test scores in math, spelling and reading for students aged 8 to 11 years found a decrease in learning because of the pandemic, according to Per Engzell, PhD, a research fellow in sociology at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield College, and colleagues.

Source: Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock

Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, were based on “exceptionally rich data” from around 350,000 students from the years 2017 to 2020, encompassing 15% of Dutch primary schools.

“The findings imply that students made little or no progress while learning from home and suggest losses even larger in countries with weaker infrastructure or longer school closures,” the researchers wrote.

According to the study, national exams took place before and after an 8-week lockdown for COVID-19. Engzell and colleagues assessed the progress between students’ percentile placement in midyear and end-of-year tests for 2020 and compared those results with the previous years.

Their analysis revealed a learning loss of about 3 percentile points, or 0.08 standard deviations (SD), the researchers reported.

“Losses are up to 60% larger among students from less-educated homes, confirming worries about the uneven toll of the pandemic on children and families,” the researchers wrote.

They noted that typical estimates of yearly progress in primary schools ranged between 0.30 and 0.60 SD, and that the World Bank assumes a yearly progression of 0.40 SD.

According to the authors, when using the World Bank’s benchmark of 0.40 and dividing it by the loss of 3.16 percentile points, it would equate to 7.9 weeks of learning lost because of the pandemic, which is about the exact length of time schools in the Netherlands were closed.

When using a smaller benchmark of 0.30 SD, the smallest estimate of yearly progress among primary schools, the learning loss is estimated to be 10.5 weeks, which implies that students regressed during the lockdown.

“We have described the Netherlands as a best-case scenario due to the country’s short school closures, high degree of technological preparedness, and equitable school funding,” the authors wrote. “However, this does not mean that circumstances were ideal. The short duration of school closures gave students, educators, and parents little time to adapt. It is possible that remote learning might improve with time.”

“At the very least, our results imply that technological access is not itself sufficient to guarantee high-quality remote instruction,” they continued. “The high degree of school autonomy in the Netherlands is also likely to have created considerable variation in the pandemic response, possibly explaining the wide school-level variation in estimated learning loss.”