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Corona restrictions had no impact on the development of mathematical competences of ninth graders

Did students learn less in maths because they were affected by school closures during the coronavirus years of 2020 and 2021? Researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi) can now answer this question for the first time by comparing different grades. Due to the long-term nature of the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), the development of young people's maths skills can be tracked from grade 7 to 9 - comparing two cohorts, one of which went through secondary school with the pandemic and the other without. The results show that the restrictions of the coronavirus years had no negative effect on the maths skills of the agegroup under study and therefore do not confirm the assumptions made by the PISA study and the IQB education trend from 2022.

Fears of lifelong disadvantages for the "corona generation", i.e. pupils who were affected by the school closures, were already described in drastic images during the pandemic. The fact that the restrictions actually had a significant impact on learning has since been described in numerous studies. Results from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) also showed as early as 2021 that pupils invested less time in learning during distance learning. Studies such as the IQB trends in student achievement and PISA in 2022 showed that ninth-graders were significantly behind in their skills compared to those who had taken part in the respective previous studies 7 and 3 years earlier. However, the differences found in these recurring cross-sectional studies may also have other causes. They therefore cannot be reliably interpreted as effects of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Strength of the National Educational Panel Study: long-term monitoring of cohorts with and without Corona restrictions
Long-term studies such as the NEPS follow students over a longer period of time and can therefore provide insight into their learning development. This makes it possible to document changes in skills development over several school years as well as to compare groups that went through school at different times and under different conditions. The current study used data from 6,048 young people who were in secondary school at various types of school between 2012 and 2015 and between 2018 and 2021. Skills tests were carried out several times in both cohorts. The effects of school closures on the development of maths skills can thus be visualised in a Germany-wide cohort comparison. To measure mathematical skills, the young people had to recognise mathematical relationships in realistic tasks and apply them flexibly. The tests therefore went beyond the mere testing of school knowledge.

Fears cannot be confirmed
The analysis of the NEPS data does not confirm the findings from recurring cross-sectional studies with pupils at secondary level in Germany, on the contrary. The gains in maths skills from Year 7 to Year 9 are almost identical for both age cohorts. In both cohorts, there are almost equal proportions of pupils with above-average and below-average competences. On average, the competences are equally strong in both cohorts, regardless of whether the children have experienced school closures or not. Even if group differences between girls and boys, pupils at grammar schools compared to pupils at other types of school and young people from academic or non-academic homes are taken into account, parallel increases are evident for the different groups across the two cohorts.

"The assumption that the pandemic has led to a drop in the maths skills of the young people affected cannot be confirmed with the data from the National Educational Panel Study. Although learning was less structured during the pandemic, pupils had less contact with teachers, were more on their own and less time was invested in learning, the increase in skills at secondary level is comparable to that of young people who went through their school years normally," says author Dr Lena Nusser, summarising the results. These comparatively positive results apply to the area of maths, or more precisely to mathematical skills as recorded in the NEPS study.

Compensation through self-directed learning?  
One reason for the almost non-existent negative effects on performance development could be that the ability for self-directed learning is for example, much more pronounced in secondary school students than in primary school students. The young people may have been able to compensate for the losses caused by coronavirus quite well themselves - at least in mathematics. Whether the pandemic has longer-term consequences for young people in other areas, particularly emotionally and motivationally, cannot be deduced from the findings. It also remains to be seen what impact the coronavirus restrictions had on the skills development of younger pupils below the 7th grade.


The evaluation has been published as a transfer report in the NEPS Corona & Education series under the german title "Geringere Lernzuwächse durch coronabedingte Einschränkungen im Bildungsbereich? Ein Kohortenvergleich zu Entwicklungen in der Sekundarstufe", or in english: "Lower learning gains due to corona-related restrictions in education? A cohort comparison of developments in secondary education". The report is available for download in German at

Corona restrictions had no impact on the development of mathematical competences of ninth graders
Greg Rosenke / unsplash

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