Beyond third grade, fewer teachers each year know how to help students who are lacking key foundational reading skills, said Elizabeth Albro, an executive at the U.S. Department of Education’s independent research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences.
Nationally, students suffered deep learning setbacks in reading and math during the pandemic. Last year’s third-graders, the kids who were in kindergarten when the pandemic started, lost more ground in reading than kids in older grades and were slower to catch up. With federal pandemic relief money, school systems added class time, brought on tutors, trained teachers in phonics instruction and found other ways to offer extra support to struggling readers.
But even after several years of recovery, an analysis of last year’s test scores by NWEA found that the average student would need the equivalent of 4.1 additional months of instruction to catch up to pre-COVID reading levels.
The one bright spot was for incoming fourth-graders, who made above-average gains and would need about two months of additional reading instruction to catch up. Karyn Lewis, who leads a team of education policy researchers at NWEA, described them as “a little bit less worse off.”