Students start to recover from COVID instructional loss

Research Rundown Issue: September '21
Publisher: Amplify
Date Published: July '21


We know that learning disruption during the pandemic impacted early literacy. In this study, researchers explored how reading readiness for K-3 students changed over the course of the pandemic—and specifically, how many students fell into the “intensive intervention” category, putting them at high risk for not learning to read.

On the positive side: fewer students were at high risk in the spring of 2021 than just a few months earlier in winter—likely the result of a return to in-person learning for many. The improvement from winter to spring was significant for kindergarten and first grade, dropping from 47% to 38% and 43% to 32% at high risk, respectively. Second and third graders saw some improvement, though it was less marked. Despite these gains, reading proficiency levels for all K-3 students are still behind pre-pandemic levels. This is important because third-grade reading proficiency is a critical indicator of future academic success.

Importantly, gaps between K-3 white students and students of color have grown wider and the COVID-19 losses disproportionately impacted Black and Latino students. For instance, before the pandemic, 32% of Black and 30% of Latino first graders were at risk of not learning to read, compared to 20% of white first graders. These percentages have increased to 44% for Black students and 38% for Latino students, but only to 21% for white students,

The authors end with a call to action for districts and schools to identify the students who are the most at risk for not learning to read and provide them with support and resources to accelerate their learning.

Why This Matters in Minnesota

Last month, the Minnesota Department of Education released results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs)—the only state assessments aligned to Minnesota’s academic standards. This was the first statewide data available since before the pandemic, and it affirmed what we anticipated was coming: existing gaps got worse during COVID-19.

Since the last data two years ago, reading proficiency dropped from 59% to 52%. And among Black students and Latino students, proficiency rates dropped by 12% and 19%, respectively. Indigenous students saw the biggest decline as their reading scores dropped by a whopping 24% from 2019. We saw similar declines for other special populations, with reading proficiency dropping by 37% for English Learners, 19% for low-income students, and 15% for students with disabilities.

Because a strong literacy foundation is essential to success in future grades, strong interventions should be a top priority, using data to effectively target the students who need it most, along with research-based best practices proven to help students get back on track.

Read the full study