Young Children Suffer Steep Drop in Literacy following Pandemic Closures

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Young students are having difficulty learning to read as schools have returned to in-person learning after two years of pandemic disruptions.

Studies of literacy in young children have shown that some young students are still suffering from learning loss, even after most U.S. schools have returned to in-person instruction.

A February briefing by Amplify, a Brooklyn-based company that produces school curriculum for grades K-12, found that students in kindergarten through second grade are at higher risk for difficulties learning to read than older students.

The set of kindergarteners “on track for learning to read” stood at 55 percent in 2019, before the pandemic, but dropped to 37 percent in 2020 and rose to just 47 percent in 2021. Among first-graders, 48 percent were on track for literacy rates in 2021 compared with 58 percent in 2019, while 51 percent of second-graders were on track in 2021 compared with 59 percent in 2019.

The data in the report reflects test scores on the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, a one-on-one test administered in 37 states to about 400,000 students. Amplify said in a press release that the schools providing data are “slightly more likely to be in large urban metropolitan areas.”

“What we’re seeing is that there are a lot of children who didn’t get the stimulation they need” to learn to read during the pandemic, Tiffany P. Hogan, head of the Speech and Language Literacy Lab at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, told the New York Times on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, an analysis by consulting firm McKinsey & Company from December 2021 found that some students are not catching up on learning loss incurred during the pandemic.

Some levels of learning loss could be observed earlier in the pandemic. A study published by the Stanford-based Policy Analysis for California Education in March 2021 found that elementary school students’ “oral reading fluency,” or ability to read text out loud accurately, fell “approximately 30 percent behind what we would expect in a typical year” between spring and fall of 2020. That study, which looked at students in 100 different school districts, did not include data on whether the students were learning remotely or in-person.

Continued concerns over learning loss come after two years in which many schools operated via remote learning over concerns of Covid spread. Schools in some cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles, have struggled to return students to the classroom amid opposition from teachers’ unions.

Schools have also been slow to drop mask mandates for students amid continuing fears of Covid disruptions. The states of California, Oregon, and Washington are dropping school mask mandates in the coming days, while New York ended its state-wide school mask mandate earlier this month.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is also a violist, and has served in the Israeli Defense Forces.