Data shows that students have made gains in K-2 reading but are now facing a more challenging path ahead.

Recent data indicates that progress in reading among young students has slowed down compared to earlier in the post-pandemic era.

The findings from Amplify, a curriculum provider, reveal that the percentage of K-2 students demonstrating literacy proficiency has risen by 2 points from last year. The increase between 2021-22 and 2022-23 was even more significant, at 5 percentage points.

This suggests that students have not yet reached pre-COVID reading performance levels. According to Paul Gazzerro, Amplify’s director of data analysis, although many students are now meeting grade-level expectations, efforts are still required to support those significantly lagging behind.

“Maybe the initial progress has been made, and now the more challenging journey lies ahead,” he explained. “Numerous students are facing significant challenges and require intensive assistance.”

The data, collected from 300,000 students across 43 states, indicates a positive trend resulting from the substantial investment in curriculum materials, teacher training, and tutoring over the past three years. Notably, Black and Hispanic students, who were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, have shown greater improvement compared to their white and Asian counterparts based on the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assessment.

“This is precisely the desired outcome,” Gazzerro noted. However, he acknowledged a recent slowdown in progress, particularly among the aforementioned student groups.

‘Additional challenges’

These results align with the observations of Todd Collins, a school board member and literacy advocate in Palo Alto, California.

Students transitioning back to in-person schooling demonstrated more significant advancements than those who experienced remote learning challenges. Nevertheless, schools now encounter “additional challenges,” including chronic absenteeism¬†and the need for strong foundational instruction in addition to supportive measures like tutoring and summer school initiatives.

“Temporary solutions are not sufficient for deep-rooted issues,” Collins emphasized, referring to proposed legislation advocating for phonics-based reading instruction.

The push towards a phonics-centric methodology, as proposed by the legislation, is aimed at bringing California in line with the majority of states (over 40) that have embraced science-based reading practices.

Despite receiving pushback, notably from English learner advocates, the legislation seeks to promote effective reading instruction while balancing support for diverse learner needs.

The California Teachers Association has not yet declared a stance on the bill, although they previously opposed universal screening. However, universal screening, a practice aimed at identifying students in need of additional support, has gained traction in several states, including California.

A state panel is currently working to finalize approved screening tools, with a focus on integrating reading research into classroom practices. Leslie Zoroya, a reading and language arts coordinator, highlighted the importance of providing teachers with the necessary tools to enhance student outcomes.

Ronit Glickman, a kindergarten teacher, underscored the benefits of screening in identifying students’ progress and areas needing further attention.

Using a screening tool from Acadience Learning, Glickman highlighted the importance of monitoring student growth and providing targeted support based on screening results.

According to the Amplify data, the proportion of students requiring intensive intervention has decreased slightly but remains higher than pre-pandemic levels, particularly in first and second grades.

Caption: Progress in reading proficiency among K-2 students is improving but has not yet returned to pre-COVID levels. (Amplify)

Noted literacy expert Karen Vaites stressed the importance of comprehensive support beyond teacher training to enhance reading outcomes, emphasizing the need for high-quality curriculum implementation.

“Teachers require effective tools, along with training, for improved student performance,” Vaites highlighted, pointing to successful models like those in Tennessee that prioritize both teacher training and curriculum quality.

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