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Pandemic Learning Loss, PSSAs and United Way's Community Schools

Monday Apr 25th, 2022

In early March, the 2020-2021 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores were released to the public, issuing stark evidence of the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our most vulnerable students and schools. Despite many educators expressing concerns about testing during continued pandemic-related interruptions in spring 2021, the U.S. Department of Education asked states to press forward with administering exams. The scores – as most expected – were disappointing state to state and nation-wide. 

Although the 2020-2021 PSSA scores highlighted the severity of pandemic learning loss, they also emphasized what we already know about the educational landscape: many schools in Pennsylvania are lacking resources and community supports to lift their students and families out of poverty with quality education. Research from the NWEA Center for School and Student Progress shows that students in high-poverty schools saw the most intense learning loss due to the pandemic -- students in these schools showed more than double the declines of students attending schools with low poverty rates.1* United Way’s community schools work to level the playing field for these students, and the work did not stop during the pandemic. Although students lost learning time in the classroom, the community schools model worked to ensure they had proper supports, resources and essentials during one of the highest times of need Erie County has ever seen.  

As educators work to lift students out of the depths of pandemic learning loss, the community schools model in Erie County continues to elevate our lowest income schools through partnerships, community building and data-driven decision making. The 2020-2021 PSSA scores illustrate a myriad of barriers for Erie’s low-income students and community schools are the solution to removing them.  


1 Lewis, K., Kuhfeld, M., Ruzek, E., McEachin, A. (2021). Learning during COVID-19: Reading and math achievement in the 2020-21 school year. NWEA.  

If you are interested in learning more about how the pandemic affected learning loss nation-wide, see below:  

Learning during COVID-19: Reading and math achievement in the 2020-21 school year: https://www.nwea.org/content/uploads/2021/07/Learning-during-COVID-19-Reading-and-math-achievement-in-the-2020-2021-school-year.research-brief-1.pdf   

COVID-19, the educational equity crisis, and the opportunity ahead: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2021/04/29/covid-19-the-educational-equity-crisis-and-the-opportunity-ahead/  

Learning from a Distance: How Remote Learning Can Set Low-Income Students Back Further:  

COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/education/our-insights/covid-19-and-education-the-lingering-effects-of-unfinished-learning  

Estimating Test-Score Growth for Schools and Districts With a Gap Year in the Data: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/23328584211041346  

Children are at Risk from COVID-19: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7196411/pdf/main.pdf