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COVID-19 impacts elementary students reading abilities in Michigan

Posted at 1:34 PM, Mar 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-07 06:24:49-05

(WXYZ) — Students across the county are still suffering from the pandemic learning loss.

Here in Michigan, kids in early grades are impacted the most in important subjects such as reading.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, over half of third-grade students failed the state’s annual literacy exam. A report from McKinsey & Company found that students are an average of four months behind in reading.

This is significant evidence to consider in light of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent budget proposal, which includes a heavy focus on increased spending in education to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"52% of third-graders in 2021 were actually classified as reading deficient at some point in first, second, or third grade," said Michigan State University Director of EPIC and Professor Katharine Strunk.

These are students in our neighborhood struggling with literacy far below grade level, and Strunck says the pandemic has caused the disruption.

"We think about 2 hours less of literacy instruction per week, which is about 80 hours less a year, and that was even lower in districts that were fully remote in the 2021 school year," said Strunk.

With teachers being allocated less time for literacy skills, remote students have had fewer learning opportunities for reading during the last school year... resulting in widening the education gap further.

Strunk says, "It's always the case in Michigan, that African American and Latino students are scoring far below white students and Asian students tend to score a little above white students."

Sara Rich, the CEO of Just Right Reader, says children with weak reading and writing skills will struggle to keep up.

"We don’t want kids to do that because their confidence is low, they know they are catching up, and they never get ahead then," said Rich.

Making matters worse, Michigan’s Educational Progress test, M-STEP, was canceled in spring 2020 due to COVID-19, and when the test resumed in spring 2021, 5% of tested students were flagged for retention.

"Alarming part of all this is that students of color and low-income students were much more likely to be flagged for retention, and they were also more likely to be retained in the end," said Strunk.

As for the solution, Rich believes, moving forward, personalizing a child’s learning journey is key.

"We believe in giving kids decodables because decodables figure out your phonics gaps, and it hit where it needs to, and kids really progress faster when they figure out their phonics gap," said Rich.

Parents can also play their part by doing more literacy-based activities with their kids, like reading a book or simple things like making a shopping list with them.

"If they are sounding out words, sound out the first word on that grocery list. If they are putting words together, have them write," said Rich.

Rich says the best way to help your child is to connect with them. Ask them about their favorite subject or let them even point out words they don’t understand or need help pronouncing. All proactive steps will go a long way in building a solid foundation for your kid.