'Crisis level': Kids suffered 'alarming' drops in reading skills during pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a troubling impact on the reading skills of school kids in the youngest grades.
A series of new studies indicate that roughly one-third of the youngest school kids are behind on reading benchmarks, appreciably higher than before the pandemic.
For kindergarten students nationwide, the percentage of students at highest risk for not learning to read rose 8 percent during the pandemic, from 29 percent in the middle of the 2019-20 school year to 37 percent in the middle of the 2021-22 school year, according to a study conducted by Amplify, a curriculum and assessment company.
Black and Hispanic students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade have been “disproportionately impacted” by learning loss, the study found.
Another study, conducted in Virginia, found that about 35 percent in the state scored below their expected levels in Fall 2021 — a 20-year low that the researchers characterized as “alarming.”
“Especially alarming, overall K-2 Fall 2021 scores indicate the highest percentage of students scoring below benchmark at grade-level entry ever observed at the fall assessment,” reads the University of Virginia study.
Early education teachers are noting steep proficiency deficits, particularly in kindergarten and first grade.
“Further, Fall 2021 rates of below-benchmark scores among first and second grade students were the highest documented in PALS history in those grades at fall assessment.”
A study conducted by Curriculum Associates, published in November, concluded that in early elementary grades “have not yet caught up to pre-pandemic on-grade level performance.”
The studies were first reported by the New York Times.
Some 33 percent of second-grade students are not ready for reading at their grade’s level — 9 percentage points higher than before the pandemic. For third-grade students, the figure is 38 percent, or seven points higher than before COVID-19 kept kids out of school buildings.
Experts said the pandemic has created the dire situation.
“We’re in new territory,” Dr. Tiffany P. Hogan, director of the Speech and Language Literacy Lab at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, told the Times about the pandemic’s effect on reading proficiency.
In New York City, already declining literacy among the city’s youngest kids has now reached “crisis” levels.
Hogan labeled the long-term risk to those reduced reading skills “pretty dramatic.”
In the Boston area, 60 percent of students at some schools with high levels of poor students have been classified as at high risk for low reading levels, Hogan told the paper.
Dr. Tamara Cella — a phonics expert who in 2016 left the city Department of Education — works as a private school teacher and tutor, which she told The Times “pays extremely well.” But Cella expressed concern about students whose parents aren’t wealthy enough to avoid private instruction.
“That feeling of guilt comes over me,” she reportedly said. “What about the kids in the Bronx?”
In New York City, already declining literacy among the city’s youngest kids accelerated during the pandemic — and has now reached “crisis” levels, experts told The Post.
“I don’t use that word lightly,” said literacy specialist Karen Vaites. “But I would use it here.”
“Every time you look at a reading assessment where we can do a comparison to pre-pandemic there is a dramatic decline,” she said. “And they are concentrated in K through second grade.”
Vaites lamented that the city spends more on per pupil spending than any other major metro area and has still been unable to lift literacy rates. The pandemic, she said, has only exacerbated the problem.
“If there was a teaching issue before the pandemic, you can promise that it didn’t get addressed during the pandemic, because schools were distracted by the shift to remote learning. If anything, teachers were disrupted.”
Sources told The Post that early education teachers are noting steep proficiency deficits, particularly in kindergarten and first grade.
During a recent orientation at PS 770 in Brooklyn, school officials told parents that phonics instruction that would normally be given in kindergarten was now being provided in the first grade due to the limitations of remote learning. A DOE source said other schools are compelled to take the same approach.
New Schools Chancellor David Banks has made improving literacy — especially among black and Latino youth — a priority. Banks has plainly stated that the curricular approach of city schools, which does not stress phonics at an early age, has been a failure and needs to be revamped.
Findings on the reading deficit for younger students came as the heads of more than 20 top early education programs in the Big Apple signed a letter calling on Mayor Eric Adams to end masking mandates for 2- to 4-year-olds, citing face coverings’ detrimental impact on children’s’ development.
“We know firsthand that younger kids face serious drawbacks while masking, despite the limited public health benefit, including negative impacts on learning, social, and speech development,” it reads. “Studies continue to demonstrate the highly negative trade-offs for this age group.”
Though Adams has vowed to keep public schools open and announced last week that children in kindergarten through 12th grade will no longer be required to mask up, early-education students aged 4 and under and those in day care centers will still have to do so.