It’s Grade-Level Reading Week and Time to Get to Work on the COVID Slide

This week, we celebrate Grade-Level Reading (GLR) Week with communities across the U.S. and the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. It’s also time to take action on research that predicts that learning loss in both reading and math will be significantly higher this year due to COVID-19.

Due to systemic inequities and structural racism, many children don’t meet the critical milestone of grade-level reading by the end of third grade. According to 2019 NAEP scores, only 36% of NC 4th graders are reading at or above proficiency. The data show disparities by racial and ethnic identity with 22% of Black, 26% of Hispanic, and 18% of Native American NC 4th graders reading proficiently compared to 63% of their white peers. Differences also exist by gender and socioeconomic status.

Summer learning is a significant contributor to children’s success in grade-level reading. Because of limited access to learning resources and summer opportunities, students from economically-disadvantaged families can lose academic gains made during the previous school year at a much higher rate than their peers. Summer learning losses—also known as the summer slide—accumulate each year to impact third grade reading proficiency. Some research suggests that the summer slide may account for as much as 80 percent of the income-based achievement gap. Summer learning programs can help children gain and retain math and reading skills. Learn more here.

So, what is happening now as children are missing six or more months of formal learning during the school year and summer due to COVID-19? Researchers from NWEA and others are referring to this as the COVID slide. Using existing research and data on the impacts of missing school—due to absenteeism, regular summer breaks, and school closures—NWEA researchers have predicted potential learning loss due to the pandemic. Their results suggest that students are likely to return in the fall with about 63-68 percent of their learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50 percent of the learning gains in math.

Predicted Reading Losses

 The following NWEA graph shows the predicted reading loss among students due to COVID-19 school closures.

  • The straight line represents typical growth/summer loss.
  • The dark dotted line represents the COVID slowdown, or trajectory if students stayed where they were academically when schools closed around March 15.
  • The light dotted line represents the COVID slide, or estimated trajectory based on previous summer learning loss data for 5 million students that researchers analyzed and mapped back to March 15.



The study suggests that the COVID slide could account for about half a grade level of loss in reading for third to fifth graders. The impact appears mitigated in the higher grades, due the amount of growth that typically occurs in the early grades, but is still relevant for older students. In addition, the graph uses averages across U.S. schools. The study suggests that more drastic slides may be seen in school districts with less resources and student engagement during the closure.

NWEA researchers also looked at the COVID slide impact for students performing in the 75th percentile compared to those participating in the 50th and 25th percentiles. In reading, they predict that the top third of students could make gains in reading during the six months, while low performing students fall significantly further behind.



Predicted Math Losses

The next graph shows the predicted loss in math skills. More drastic losses are predicted in math, particularly in the early grades, with almost a full grade level of math lost for third to fifth graders. 



Read more about NWEA’s research here

The NWEA suggests that these results do not have to predict the destiny of students. Click here to learn more about their recommendations for educators. Recommendations for state and district leaders include:

  • Use federal and state investment, and flexibilities, to close the gaps.
  • Make up lost instructional time.
  • Create plans to close learning gaps.
  • Surround kids with learning outside the classroom.
  • Create clear strategic plans for restarting schools.

The NC Governor’s Office and other state departments, school district administrators, staff, teachers, child care centers, communities and families have been actively preparing to meet the needs of NC students this fall in light of the extended time off and uncertainty of COVID-19. Some of their efforts include preparing for losses in social-emotional learning along with differential academic instruction, addressing the digital divide, supporting family engagement during reopening and working with early learning educators and family care providers as they engage NC’s youngest learners, birth to age five. The national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has also prioritized Learning Loss Recovery as their primary area of focus next year.

Governor Cooper has encouraged school districts to open using a blend of in-person learning and remote instruction. Districts may open with 100% remote instruction if they determine that is best for their district. Districts may not do 100% in-person learning, because students must be kept six feet apart. Learn more about Governor Cooper’s Plan B approach to school reopening here.

Two initiatives led by the NC Early Childhood Foundation in partnership with state and local organizations focus on promoting grade-level reading in North Carolina. The NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative (Pathways) has identified key measures of success and prioritized actions that help to ensure every NC child is on the path to grade-level reading by the end of third grade. Pathways emphasizes a whole child, birth-to-eight approach with an explicit but not exclusive focus on racial equity. About 100 NC organizations have endorsed Pathways and its Measures of Success Framework and Action Framework.

Since 2015, the NC Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has mobilized 14 communities across the state to grow thriving readers, beginning at birth and continuing through third grade, so each NC child is prepared for success. Learn about the NC Campaign communities here.