Educational Recovery Now

LA’s Children and Schools Need a Comprehensive Plan

Los Angeles is in an unprecedented educational crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the livelihoods, health, education, childcare, and financial stability of millions. Students in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are experiencing the painful loss of connection with their peers, teachers and school staff, and serious loss of learning that will have life-long consequences if not addressed.

The purpose of this report is twofold: to start a public conversation on the impacts of a year without in-person instruction on our students, particularly those with the highest needs; and to call on LAUSD to develop a comprehensive educational recovery plan with measurable action steps to avoid irreparable long-term harm to a generation of children.

We detail the impact of the pandemic on students to date, based on publicly available data, so that we can appropriately assess this crisis, understand the stakes and surface suggestions for necessary components in the district’s recovery plan.

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A Year of School Closure Created the Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a disruption to our school system on a level never seen. We may not know the full impact of this last year on our students for another year or more, but the preliminary data we have paints an alarming picture.

Source: Los Angeles Unified Independent Analysis Unit, Fall 2020 Schoology Usage Update: Student engagement online between August 18 and October 31, January 2021.

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Thousands of LAUSD students are still regularly disengaged.

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Source: Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, Distance Learning Update: Superintendent’s Report, March 19, 2021.

Note: The DIBELS assessment was administered to 213,745 TK-5 students in 2019-20 and 200,476 TK-5 students in 2020-21. The participation rate was not published therefore we do not know what proportion of LAUSD TK-5 students took the DIBELS assessment.

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Source: Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, Distance Learning Update: Superintendent’s Report, March 9, 2021.

Note: The DIBELS assessment was administered to 213,745 TK-5 students in 2019-20 and 200,476 TK-5 students in 2020-21. The participation rate, which indicates what percentage of LAUSD TK-5 students took the assessment, was not publicly published.

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Source: Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, Distance Learning Update, December 15, 2020.

Note: 148,335 middle and high school students were tested in reading and 130,209 were tested in math. Between 60-70% of middle and high school students took the STAR Reading and Math assessments in fall 2020.

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Source: Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, Distance Learning Update: Superintendent’s Report, March 9, 2021.

*On track to graduate in Los Angeles Unified is defined as having a D or better on all A-G courses by their graduation year. For example, 20% of the Class of 2021 is missing one to two or five or more classes they need to graduate by May of 2021. Unless they recover credits now, they will not graduate on time.

**Actual class of 2019-20 graduation rate.

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Necessary Components of an Educational Recovery Plan

As LAUSD develops its plan, we suggest the following as necessary components of its plan:

  • Learn from other district’s best practices.

    There is a lot to learn from school districts across the country that have already reopened and launched recovery efforts. One resource for LAUSD to use is the framework for recovery and reopening developed by the researchers and expert panelists at University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). This framework covers a broad set of promising practices from districts across the country, from clear and inclusive communications to tailoring educational services for high-need students.    

  • Prioritize healing, mental health, and connectedness. 

    Our students have been through a lot over the last year and it is critical that the district prioritizes their emotional well-being when developing its recovery plan. LAUSD should consider a universal screening system for students upon their return to school so the district can understand the social, emotional and mental health needs of its students. This understanding is necessary to provide students with the appropriate support.

  • Implement a bold learning plan that differentiates for students’ needs.

    LAUSD has already indicated that it is exploring extending the school year next year and investing heavily to provide additional support to students, particularly at the elementary school level through its Primary Promise program. In addition to these important interventions, we hope the district will also consider a variety of important strategies detailed later in the report, including identifying where students are academically by the beginning of the 2021-22 school year through assessments, grades and engagement data; establishing key academic and social-emotional learning goals for all; and sharing those data and plans with the public. 

  • Focus on learning acceleration rather than traditional remediation. 

    Building up foundational skills and helping students master past concepts is important and typical in remediation, which focuses on filling learning gaps. But researchers and practitioners are finding that a more effective approach is focusing on ways to prepare students for success at their grade-level.  

  • Prioritize live time with teachers.

    Research shows that synchronous learning time with teachers is what students need most to build their academic and social-emotional skills. The answer is more time with teachers and that time needs to be structured appropriately, especially for early learners, so any time spent on synchronous platforms like Zoom is productive and interactive for both teachers and students. 

  • Incorporate expanded learning time outside of the classroom. 

    Beyond time with teachers, students need one-on-one support to catch up or sustain academic progress especially when schools are seeking to close learning gaps for large numbers of students. Access to additional academic opportunities that extend the amount of time students have with trained adults can be very effective in closing learning gaps, especially when those strategies are grounded in evidence-based approaches. 

  • Forge a new and deeper partnership with families. 

    The transition to online learning in the home evolved an already essential partnership between parents and schools. During distance learning, parents and caregivers have become co-educators with teachers as they often guide their children through Zoom lessons and support them during asynchronous learning time. As LAUSD develops its comprehensive recovery plan, it should build off the foundation of deeper collaboration with parents that was facilitated over the last year to further strengthen and formalize its partnership with families. 

  • Leverage external partners to provide additional services to our highest need students. 

    Nonprofit organizations throughout Los Angeles provide a wide array of services to students including after-school and summer programs, tutoring, college and career access guidance, mental health and social emotional support, opportunities to engage in the arts, STEM, advocacy and other areas, in addition to training and advocacy for families. We believe a coordinated effort between LAUSD, nonprofits, philanthropy, the City of LA and other cities within LAUSD will lead to the strongest possible education recovery outcome for our children.  

  • Make sure all students are connected. 

    Low-income families in cyber-redlined communities are burdened with internet dropping, bandwidth for multi-student homes is insufficient, and the expense of the internet is an insuperable barrier for many. Broadband internet for low-income families who are without reliable and quality internet access is essential. Consider how LAUSD can scale the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools’ broadband pilot or replicate Chicago Connected. LAUSD can partner with philanthropy and nonprofits today to provide broadband internet to those who need it most. 

Want LAUSD to include these recommendations in its educational recovery effort?

Tell LAUSD to develop and implement a comprehensive recovery plan now.



We triangulated data and research from multiple publicly available data sources to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how the pandemic and associated school closures have impacted Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) students’ academic progress and social-emotional wellbeing.

To assess student engagement during distance learning this past year, we obtained and analyzed daily Schoology engagement data, attendance data, and historical chronic absenteeism data.

To assess learning loss among students, we analyzed interim assessment data, grades, and course completion towards graduation. Specifically, we analyzed Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (DIBELS) benchmark aggregate data and STAR (otherwise known as Renaissance) reading and math assessment data. Reporting the aggregate data without making publicly available the data and research files presents limitations in analyzing the true extent of learning loss. There was only one year STAR assessment data available further limiting our ability to measure learning loss amongst secondary students. We also looked at grades and course completion towards high school graduation to assess the impact on secondary students.

Finally, to assess the impact of the pandemic on student mental health and social-emotional wellbeing, we looked at the most recent reports from the Department of Mental Health and analyzed LAUSD’s School Experience Survey results.

Primary Data Sources

  • Public reports by the LAUSD Independent Analysis Unit and distance learning updates to the LAUSD Board of Education
  • Fall 2020 School Experience Survey, 2020-21
  • LAUSD Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan
  • Historical attendance and performance data from the California Department of Education
  • Department of Mental Health reports on services to LAUSD families
  • LAUSD-United Teachers Los Angeles, 2020-21 distance learning side letter
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