NYTimes on pandemic associated early reading concerns
Why are educators alarmed about losses in children's early literacy?
In the venerable New York Times, Dana Goldstein wrote about concerns regarding chlidren’s reading achievement on 8 March 2022, under the headline, “It’s ‘Alarming’: Children Are Severely Behind in Reading: The fallout from the pandemic is just being felt. ‘We’re in new territory,’ educators say.”
Ms. Goldstein described the substantial problem—I’m avoiding saying “crisis,” but she and some readers may prefer that term, and I’d understand—in which children (young, naive learners) have had to master a skill when they are not receiving adequate, in-person instruction in it. How do you master a skill when you are a young learner, unschooled in the mysteries of learning skills, and you hardly get any explicit, systematic, intensive instruction?
The kindergarten crisis of last year, when millions of 5-year-olds spent months outside of classrooms, has become this year’s reading emergency.
As the pandemic enters its third year, a cluster of new studies now show that about a third of children in the youngest grades are missing reading benchmarks, up significantly from before the pandemic.
In one of the studies to which Ms. Goldtein refers, SET friend, Emily Solari (2022), reported that data about young children in Virginia show elevated proportions of youngsters who are below what many would call benchmarks signaling likely success in literacy. Virginia administers a battery of literacy measures that show how its students are doing in early literacy; the system is called “PALS.” The measures longitudinally assess damn near all the students in the Commonwealth; that is Virginia knows how nearly all the kiddos in Virginia do on each assessment and how their performance changes over time, as the kiddos get older—and, one would hope, more skilled.
Based on recent data, Professor Solari (and her colleagues) provided multiple “take-aways” from the data about Virginia children. Here’s just one of those take-aways:
KEY TAKEAWAY #2
Distributions of high-risk (below benchmark; red), medium-risk (just above benchmark; yellow), and low-risk (green) scores indicate a marked shift across the last three fall assessments whereby the percentage of students identified as at high risk is growing, the percentage of students identified as at low-risk is shrinking, and the percentage of students identified as at medium-risk is holding relatively steady. [boldface in original]
Now, I must say that the data in Professor Solari’s report have not been vetted via peer review, but I’m fairly certain that they would survive such analyses. The PALS data have been collected for a couple of decades, so when one sees a “blip” like this, it’s pretty safe to say something’s happening. For a scholar of Professor Solari’s stature to report it quite bluntly makes the case stronger.
Just assuming that this report, and others, accurately represent reading reality, it seems to me that there are two big questions:
What in the world are we going to do to help the kids who have been harmed by this recent disruption of instruction?
What in the world are we going to do to ensure that primary-grade children who are coming into educational systems are not similarly harmed?
Most readers will not be surprised by my simple response to those questions: Adopt proven literacy instructional methods and practices NOW!
Read Ms. Goldstein’s article (paywall may interfere).
Solari, E. (2022). Examining the impact of COVID-19 on the identification of at-risk students: Fall 2021 literacy screening findings. University of Virginia.
Flash of the electrons to Joel M. and Mike G. for independently alerting me to this story!