Children hit hardest by the pandemic are now the big kids at school. Many still need reading help

by Chloe Baker
Education Recovery

The students who experienced the most disruption during the pandemic have now progressed to become the older students in elementary schools across the United States. These were the children who were still in the process of learning basic skills such as writing their names and tying their shoelaces when schools were abruptly closed in the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic.

Despite their advancement in school, many of these students continue to require substantial assistance to overcome the lingering impacts of the pandemic. Educational institutions have implemented a variety of strategies in an attempt to help these students catch up. While some incoming fourth-graders are showing promising signs of improvement, it’s clear that this generation of students will need ongoing reading support that is not typically provided to older students.

As students progress beyond the third grade, there is a diminishing number of teachers who possess the expertise to aid students lacking fundamental reading skills. Elizabeth Albro, an executive at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, notes that middle and high school teachers aren’t accustomed to teaching reading skills. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the pandemic led to significant setbacks in students’ reading and math abilities nationally. Last year’s third-graders, who were in kindergarten when the pandemic began, experienced greater declines in reading proficiency compared to older students, and their recovery has been slower.

To address these challenges, schools have taken various measures, such as increasing classroom time, hiring tutors, training teachers in phonics instruction, and offering additional support to struggling readers. Despite these efforts, an analysis of test scores from the previous year indicates that the average student requires an equivalent of 4.1 extra months of instruction to regain pre-COVID reading levels. A positive note is that incoming fourth-graders have made above-average gains and would only need around two more months of focused reading instruction to catch up.

One example of a school district working towards improvement is Niagara Falls, New York, where additional reading specialists have been brought in. However, the process of helping struggling students reach their appropriate reading levels is expected to take time. It’s a challenging endeavor that demands dedication and patience, as improvement is not likely to occur within a short span of three years.

The significance of reading proficiency by the third grade cannot be overstated, as it forms the foundation for success in subsequent grades. Schools have traditionally dealt with older students who face challenges, with only a third of fourth graders scoring as proficient readers even before the pandemic. The pandemic exacerbated these issues, disproportionately affecting low-income students and children from marginalized communities.

In response, some schools are adopting the “science of reading,” which advocates for research-backed strategies grounded in phonics instruction. New laws endorsing this approach often target students beyond the third grade. Virginia, for instance, has enacted a law mandating extra assistance for struggling readers up to the eighth grade. This represents a significant shift, recognizing that reading difficulties aren’t limited to the third grade.

However, implementing these changes is a substantial undertaking, as phonics and decoding skills have historically waned in importance as students progress to higher grades. Many English teachers at these levels are ill-prepared to teach reading, much like a math teacher wouldn’t be equipped to teach reading. While they excel in teaching literature analysis and other literary aspects, they lack the expertise to address foundational reading skills.

Despite the efforts fueled by federal pandemic relief funds, optimism is tempered by the reality that these resources are finite and will eventually run out. Teachers are experiencing challenges in covering the required material within the available time, necessitating innovative solutions. Some school systems are utilizing programs that break down grade-level content into varying reading levels, accommodating both strong and weak readers and facilitating a comprehensive understanding of concepts.

While a small number of students repeated a grade early in the pandemic, this was a short-term solution and numbers for grade retention have since declined. Teachers can modify their approach by relying less on silent reading and incorporating more small group activities where students with varying reading abilities can collaborate. Karyn Lewis of NWEA emphasizes that it’s essential not to perceive these students as beyond help. The key message is that the right steps are being taken, but the effort needs to be intensified and sustained in the coming years.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Education Recovery

What challenges did students face during the pandemic?

Students faced disruptions in their learning due to school closures during the pandemic, affecting their foundational skills and academic progress.

How are schools addressing the impact of the pandemic?

Schools have implemented various strategies, including increased class time, tutoring, and phonics instruction, to help students catch up with their learning.

What is the significance of reading proficiency by the third grade?

Reading proficiency by the third grade is crucial as it forms the basis for success in higher grades, making it essential for long-term academic achievement.

How have older students been affected by the pandemic’s impact on learning?

Older students, particularly beyond third grade, require additional reading support due to a lack of foundational skills, posing a challenge for educators.

What approach are some schools adopting to improve reading skills?

Some schools are embracing the “science of reading,” which emphasizes phonics-based strategies, aiming to improve reading abilities in older students.

What is the status of pandemic relief funds for education?

Pandemic relief funds have provided temporary support, but their finite nature raises concerns about the sustainability of ongoing efforts to aid student recovery.

How are teachers adapting to challenges in the classroom?

Teachers are modifying their teaching methods, incorporating small group activities and varied reading levels to cater to students with different skill levels.

What is the outlook for struggling students post-pandemic?

While challenges persist, the message is optimistic – there’s a recognition of the right steps being taken to help struggling students, requiring sustained effort in the future.

More about Education Recovery

  • “The Impact of COVID-19 on Student Learning” – Link
  • “Reading Recovery Strategies for Struggling Students” – Link
  • “The Science of Reading: A Comprehensive Approach” – Link
  • “Federal Relief Funds for Education” – Link

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FinGuru September 2, 2023 - 6:39 pm

tough times for students, schools strugglin with pandemic aftershocks. readin’s a bridge, needs extra push. ed funds can’t last, challenge ahead.

EconInsight September 2, 2023 - 8:25 pm

pandemic hit kids hard, schools battlin to get ’em back on track. readin’s the key, need more support, no quick fix. gotta keep pushin, tho.

CryptoJourno September 2, 2023 - 11:06 pm

hey, this text talks bout how kids had it tough during the pandemic, now they’re big kids but still need lotsa help. skools trynna fix it, but it’s not all smooth sailin, ya know?

CarEnthusiast September 3, 2023 - 1:36 am

whoa, pandemic mess messed up lil’ kids learnin, now they’re big ones. schools gotta work hard teachin readin, sounds like real hassle. we’ll see how it goes, man.

PoliticSavvy September 3, 2023 - 2:20 am

schools strugglin post-pandemic, teachin big kids readin’s a challenge. phonics helpin, but funds runnin low. gotta amp up teachin for better future.


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