COVID-19; school closures; learning losses; standardised tests
The school closures owing to the 2020 COVID-19 crisis resulted in a significant disruption of education provision leading to fears of learning losses and of an increase in educational inequality. This paper evaluates the effects of school closures based on standardised tests in the last year of primary school in Flemish schools in Belgium. The data covers a large sample of Flemish schools over a period of six years from 2015 to 2020. We find that students of the 2020 cohort experienced significant learning losses in all tested subjects, with a decrease in school averages of mathematics scores of 0.19 standard deviations and Dutch scores of 0.29 standard deviations as compared to the previous cohort. This finding holds when accounting for school characteristics, standardised tests in grade 4, and school fixed effects. Moreover, we observe that inequality within schools rises by 17% for math and 20% for Dutch. Inequality between schools rises by 7% for math and 18% for Dutch. The learning losses are correlated with observed school characteristics as schools with a more disadvantaged student population experience larger learning losses.