New report: because of the pandemic, more of the nation’s youngest students are still struggling to learn to read

Middle-of-year data from Amplify’s mCLASS® confirm K–2 students, especially Black and Hispanic students, are having the most difficulty getting on track learning to read

BROOKLYN, NY (February 16, 2022)Amplify, a publisher of next-generation curriculum and assessment programs, released a research brief on middle-of-school-year reading data. It shows good news that K–5 students are recovering from the loss of literacy instruction caused by COVID-19. However, it also shows that in every elementary grade, there are still more students at risk of not learning to read than there were before the pandemic. The cohorts of students currently in kindergarten, grade1, and grade 2 are furthest behind compared to their pre-pandemic counterparts; Black and Hispanic students currently in those three early grades are still suffering disproportionately from COVID-related instructional loss.

The latest data show that as elementary students have returned to in-class instruction, schools have made terrific progress toward recovering the instruction they missed during the pandemic. However, at the middle of the 2021–22 school year, in every elementary grade (K–5), the number of students at risk of not reading is still higher than it was at the same point in the 2019–20 school year. The number of at-risk students has risen the most in the youngest grades (K–2), and in those grades, nationally, the gaps in early reading skills between Black and Hispanic students and their white counterparts are now wider than they were before the pandemic.

Susan Lambert, chief academic officer of elementary humanities at Amplify, says the data in this report is a clarion call to help this generation of young students get on track in reading. “It’s really an all-hands on deck moment,” she says. “But aiming for recovery is the wrong goal, because pre-pandemic literacy rates were already a problem. Literacy instruction for the K–2 age group has always been critical. Now we’re seeing second grade students who have spent their entire school lives in the pandemic losing the most instructional time at the most important moments for learning to read. The struggles of students who have fallen behind are not going to go away on their own. If we don’t address them, those struggles will compound. The older these students become, the longer it will take them to catch up.”

What should be done to help these students? “There are many things schools are addressing right now: morale of teachers, well-being of children, reducing the spread of the virus, and helping kids catch up,” Lambert says. “With reading, teacher-student relationships matter. Teaching practices should be evidence-based. High quality instructional materials, grounded in the Science of Reading, should be used daily. Instructional content should develop both word recognition and language skills. Learning must be regularly monitored and learning gaps addressed immediately.”

Lambert is optimistic about how much progress can be made. “When kids get good instruction based in the Science of Reading, outcomes improve. When students receive that instruction in the early grades, 95 percent of them can develop as proficient readers regardless of their background.”

Lambert calls for both accelerating student literacy outcomes through quality grade-level instruction and for targeted instruction and interventions to close existing gaps.

She specifically recommends that each district make a two-year, highly integrated plan for the population of kids that are at high risk. Those integrated plans should ensure that schools:

  • Administer benchmark assessments three times per year to monitor levels of risk for reading difficulties.
  • Spend more time on literacy instruction, and make sure it is evidence-based instruction (based in the Science of Reading).
  • Organize the daily calendar to include time beyond grade-level instruction.
  • Be creative about scheduling and staffing to ensure this time is prioritized.
  • Support instructional staff in gaining knowledge about the Science of Reading.

The report highlights the effects of COVID-19 disruptions by comparing Amplify mCLASS with DIBELS® 8th Edition benchmark data from the 2019–20, 2020–21 and 2021-22 school years. Approximately 400,000 students in a matched set of more than 1,300 schools in 37 states are represented. The schools in the source data are slightly more likely to be in large urban metropolitan areas than the nation overall.

The data was collected using the mCLASS platform, which automates the data collection of DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills). DIBELS is a widely-used series of short tests that assess K–8 literacy developed by the University of Oregon. DIBELS is an observational assessment collected by teachers interacting with students one-on-one, either live or over video. DIBELS is typically administered three times a year (beginning, middle, and end of year), and is used to identify reading difficulty, monitor progress, and inform instruction, especially for struggling readers.

About Amplify
A pioneer in K–12 education since 2000, Amplify is leading the way in next-generation curriculum and assessment. Our captivating core and supplemental programs in ELA, math, and science engage all students in rigorous learning and inspire them to think deeply, creatively, and for themselves. Our formative assessment products turn data into practical instructional support to help all students build a strong foundation in early reading and math. All of our programs provide teachers with powerful tools that help them understand and respond to the needs of every student. Today, Amplify serves more than 10 million students in all 50 states.

Molly McCue

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