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(LifeSiteNews) — The harm of COVID-19 school closings to children’s education has persisted well into 2023 and may even be backsliding, according to a study published this month by educational research institution NWEA and the Center for School & Student Progress (CSSP).

The study reviewed the MAP Growth reading and math assessment scores of approximately 6.7 million grade 3-8 students from 20,000 U.S. public schools, and compared the results from before the 2020 COVID outbreak to the results of the 2022-2023 school year.

“Overall, achievement gains in 2022–23 lagged prepandemic trends in all but the youngest cohort of students, falling short of prepandemic averages by 1–19% in reading and by 6–15% in math,” the study found. “This trend is worse than what was observed in 2021–22 where, in general, achievement gains were consistent with or even surpassed prepandemic trends. The most notable departure from prepandemic trends is evident in the upper grades in reading. Reading gains for these grades were also furthest below average in 2021–22.”

“[W]e interpret these small increases in the achievement gaps between fall 2022 and spring 2023 as indicating that progress toward recovery generally stalled in 2022–23,” the researchers write. “Conversely, we interpret the small decreases in achievement gaps for the 1-3 cohort to indicate additional modest progress toward recovery for these students.”

“We are actually seeing evidence of backsliding […] This isn’t news anybody wanted to hear,” said study author Dr. Karyn Lewis, the Daily Wire reports.

Lewis and coauthor Dr. Megan Kuhfeld estimate that the average student would require the equivalent of 4.1 months of additional schooling to catch up to their pre-COVID level in reading and 4.1 months to catch up in math.

“While many districts are offering academic programs this summer, these programs are typically offered to a small share of students and do not include enough additional instruction to catch up the average student, let alone the students who have been most affected by the pandemic,” the authors add. “We must recognize that the amount of additional schooling required to catch students up cannot be compressed into a one-shot intervention or single school year. As such, it will be next to impossible for districts to build in the additional schooling time necessary to allow for student recovery before the expiration of ESSER [federal Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief] funds next year.”

The study adds to a large body of evidence that school closings and other restrictions on personal and economic activity undertaken in 2020 and parts of 2021 and 2022 caused far more harm than good in terms of personal freedom and economics as well as public health, and that lives could have been saved through far less burdensome methods, such as the promotion of established therapeutic drugs, narrower protections focused on those most at risk (such as the elderly and infirm), and increasing vitamin D intake.

In May, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch penned an opinion identifying America’s COVID response measures as “the greatest intrusions on civil liberties in the peacetime history of this country,” against which Congress, state legislatures, and courts alike were largely negligent to protect constitutional rights, personal liberty, and the rule of law.