Reading Skills Among First Graders Significantly Declining Due to the Pandemic

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The first few months of the resumption of in-person classes in the U.S., post-pandemic, has laid bare what many experts have anticipated. Students, especially first graders, are falling behind on their reading skills.

Per a report on USA Today, the pandemic disruption to learning is mostly affecting elementary students because it's these kids who have to grasp basic math or reading skills, as well as social and emotional skills. Unfortunately, the children cannot fully experience a rewarding classroom learning experience with a looming COVID-19 crisis.

Experts said that if the kids struggle to read in the first grade, they will likely need to catch up with basic reading skills until the fourth grade. According to educator Heather Miller, the first grade is crucial because it is the "reading year."

"[The students] really grow as readers and writers in first grade," Miller said. "It's where they build their confidence in their fluency."

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Spending More Time with the Lessons

A month into this new school year, Miller noticed that she had to spend more time with the lessons for her first-grade class. She tried to shift to teaching kindergarten-level instructions when she saw that the kids were struggling. The teacher acknowledged they missed out on their development when schools were mostly shut down in 2020, leaving the children to learn through iPads and computers.

According to experts from Stanford, reading assessments for students between first to fourth grade took a deep dive in a recent survey. According to researcher Ben Domingue, the kids' reading skills became stagnant after spring 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns. While it somewhat picked up in the fall, as educators prepared for a different kind of instruction, the growth was "not robust enough to make up for the gaps from the spring."

Stanford's study showed that the children are at least 30 percent behind the reading level they should have achieved in a given school year. Reading fluency is crucial to the children's academic progress; as Domingue said, this skill is the "gateway" to their development of other skills "across all disciplines."

Some States Taking Action

Before the pandemic, the reading achievement of elementary kids in America has been lagging behind other countries, and the pandemic has widened the gap further. Some states, such as Texas, have passed laws requiring school districts to match children who fall behind in their academics with highly-rated teachers. However, finding suitable tutors has been a daunting task for school districts already coping with other issues like a face mask or vaccine mandates, school lunches, bus services, and the lack of teachers.

North Carolina has established a new law that requires all educators in elementary schools to focus on uniform reading instruction. Teachers will also have to undergo a Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) program to help the kids pass their NAEP.

The District of Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, and Tennessee will use their COVID-19 federal funding to improve its literacy plans. Some California school districts have also developed teacher and student training programs for guided reading, while Alabama has expanded its reading programs with more paraprofessionals.

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