Reading Education: Address Pandemic Learning Loss With a Curriculum and Instruction Degree

Standardized test scores and learning loss in reading and math have been well documented since the COVID-19 pandemic. School closures and local conditions resulted in learning loss averaging a half year in math and a quarter year in reading. Some locations saw learning losses of more than one and a half years for students in grades 3-8. Per the Education Recovery Scorecard, researchers from Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) and Stanford University’s Educational Opportunity Project (EOP) reviewed data from 8,000 communities in 40 states and Washington, D.C. to obtain the data.

Education professionals have instituted various remedies to fight learning loss including summer school, an extended school year and tutoring. However, after studying test score fluctuations in the decade before the pandemic, researchers discovered that effects of learning loss linger for years.

Education professionals seeking advanced degrees in reading so they can alleviate these learning losses and help students succeed can advance their career goals through the Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Reading Education program.

The Slow Recovery From Learning Loss

The CEPR and EOP Education Recovery Scorecard reported that elementary and middle school students have only made up some of the pandemic-related losses in math and reading. The team looked at the first year of regular testing between spring 2022 and spring 2023 in 30 states. They found that students recovered about a third of the learning loss in math and a quarter of the loss in reading, stating that it would take at least two more years for students to catch up to pre-pandemic levels in reading achievement.

Researchers recommend that school districts use the remaining $51 billion in federal aid before leftover funds have to be returned by September 2024. Enrolling students in summer school who are still below grade level would help, along with “high-quality” tutoring and after-school programs.

How Can Educators Help Students Recover?

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Policy Bruno V. Manno recently published recommendations for educators on overcoming the pandemic loss in K-12. He says recovery plans “need a reboot based on transparency, evidence, and accountability for results.”

To achieve this, K-12 leaders need to be honest about learning loss and communicate it to the community. Parents may not have an accurate perception of how students are doing academically. Because of chronic levels of absenteeism, declining mental health among students and other nonacademic factors, parental support is essential. Additionally, in order to reconnect students and families with schools, educators must maintain communication via texts, emails and even home visits. Promoting quality instruction and using evidence-based materials and other resources can help counteract learning loss.

Dropout rates are still high in many states, averaging 5.2% across the country as of May 2023. While keeping students enrolled in school is important, other education options have become popular following the pandemic. Homeschooling, micro-schools, learning pods and charter and private schools have all helped expand options for parents.

While implementing solutions is important, tracking student progress and evaluating the success of different strategies is also essential. What works in one school may not work across a whole district or state. Expanding on successful strategies and abandoning the ones that aren’t working will help speed recovery. Ultimately, test scores will be a good indicator of success as each school compares its progress with its previous performance.

Improving Literacy Rates

According to the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 33% of fourth-grade students are at or above a proficient level in reading. This is 2% lower than in 2019 but 4% higher than in 1992 — the first reading assessment year. The trend for eighth graders was 3% lower than in 2019.

There are a variety of tools available to measure literacy. Screeners, diagnostic tests and other monitoring tools help educators determine literacy levels and track progress of students. The Education Trust reports that “five widely accepted components … are essential to reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.” Research shows that when students receive explicit and systematic instruction in all of these components, they learn to read.

Educators must develop the skills needed to assess literary performance, explore differentiated instruction and strategies and understand how to present reading as a process of constructing meaning. In courses like Assessment in Literacy, Issues in Comprehension, and Instruction for Struggling Readers, students in FGCU’s program gain those critical literacy teaching skills to address learning loss across grades.

Learn more about FGCU’s online Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Reading Education program.

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