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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

More students are in 'big, big trouble' in reading, math, and they're not catching up

Students are learning again, but most are not catching up for learning lost during the pandemic, conclude three new reports comparing achievement in the spring of 2019 to the spring of 2023. The most recent report, by Curriculum Associates, reports an "alarming 50 percent increase in the number of students who are still performing significantly below grade level," reports Hechinger's Jill Barshay.

“It’s dang hard to catch up” when students missed foundational reading and math skills, said Kristen Huff, vice president of assessment and research at Curriculum Associates.

The number of students significantly below grade level spiked during the pandemic, and those children are continuing to lose ground, the report found. The neediest groups are "poor readers in second, third and fourth grades; children in kindergarten and first grade, and middle school math students."

Children who were in kindergarten and first grade when the pandemic first hit are now in third and fourth grade, said Huff. Those who missed out on phonics and phonemic awareness can't cope. “If you’re two or more grade levels below in grade three, you’re in big trouble. You’re in big, big, big trouble.”

Younger students missed out on social interactions and were less prepared for kindergarten.

"Very high percentages of middle schoolers are below grade level" in math, the report found. It's likely they never mastered foundational math skills, especially fractions and proportional reasoning, Huff believes.

Renaissance's spring 2023 report finds most students are learning at a typical pace, but not making up for lost ground, Barshay writes. "Seventh and eighth graders showed tiny decreases in annual learning in math and reading."

NWEA's spring 2023 data also shows more academic harm to older students and more learning loss in math, she reports.

Progressive educators think learning foundational skills is boring. They want their "scholars" to feel like readers, writers, mathematicians, historians, scientists, etc. But frustration and failure are not "empowering."

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