COVID-19 Means More Students Not Learning to Read

Research Rundown Issue: March '21
Publisher: Amplify
Date Published: February '21


Data from over 400,000 students across 41 states found that more students in all elementary grades and demographic groups have fallen behind in reading skills during COVID-19. These losses were concentrated in kindergarten and first grade. The number of kindergarten students in the lowest category for early literacy skills rose from 26% before COVID to 47% this year. This is a 68% increase in the percentage of kindergarten students at the greatest risk for not learning to read. There were similar results for first graders, with students in the lowest category rising from 26% to 43%. These losses were more stark for Black and Latino kindergarteners and first graders.

The researchers urge districts to implement two-year, integrated plans for students who are at high risk for not learning to read. They recommend spending more time on literacy instruction, supporting instructional staff in gaining knowledge in the science of reading, and doing formative assessments at least three times a year to help inform support and instruction.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

The Amplify study is just one in a growing list indicating that academic disruption—particularly for students of color and low-income students—due to COVID-19 school closures is something we cannot ignore. Last month, the Biden Administration released guidance that gives states some flexibility in annual assessments, while still ensuring they are administered to get baseline data to measure the recovery process. This decision is critical to better understand where students are academically, which research-based interventions to use to accelerate learning, how resources should be equitably allocated, and how to plan for long-term academic recovery.

That said, since these tests don’t cover our youngest learners, it is critical that Minnesota prioritize other strategies to support early literacy. For example, increasing access to training for teachers, local curriculum and strategies grounded in the science of reading, and statewide implementation of Kindergarten Entry Profile to measure and support the growth of our youngest learners. It also highlights that using federal funds to provide additional support to students in pre-K through third grade will be an essential strategy to mitigate long-term impacts of disrupted learning.

Read the full study