Delays in North Carolina children’s reading skills made worse by pandemic


For the first time in at least five school years, a majority of first, second, and third-graders have not demonstrated reading proficiency, according to a report on the 2020-21 tests from the Office of Early Learning at the Ministry of Education. The data was presented to the State Board of Education on Wednesday.

State leaders have long reported low reading proficiency scores for North Carolina students, but the most recent data is particularly troubling.

Presenters and board members said the findings reflect the impact of the pandemic on student learning while also demonstrating the ways the pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing problems and the worsening effect of these factors on historically marginalized students.

“It goes without saying that our early learners were hit hard during the pandemic,” Amy Rhyne, director of the Office of Early Learning, told the board. “Now more than ever, we need to make sure that a strong plan is in place to address the gaps that have been created during this time.”

Rhyne also provided the results of a survey of North Carolina K-3 teachers conducted by the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR), which showed that at least 60% of teachers are aware of a reading instruction. high quality, but less than 40% feel comfortable. apply this knowledge in the classroom.

Inside recent test results

Data for first and second year students are taken from last year’s end-of-year standardized tests (2020-2021). The state waived graduation tests in 2019-20, but last year’s results show a steep drop from the 2018-19 results.

At the end of the last school year, only 38.5% of first graders had demonstrated competence, down 32.6 percentage points from 71.1% two years earlier. Last year, 41.3% of second-graders demonstrated competence, down 36.8 points from 78.1% two years earlier.

Grade 3 scores come from a collection of EOGs from last year and standardized tests from the start of this year. The results show that only 43.7% of students demonstrated competence on the day they took the tests. This is down from 57.3% two years earlier.

“It was in preparation before the pandemic,” said state superintendent of public education, Catherine Truitt, during the discussion with the board of directors after the presentation. Truitt said that is why the state has focused on anchoring reading education in the science of reading and is developing a four-year implementation plan. It takes a lot of teachers, she admitted, but said there was no other choice.

“We cannot continue to have 24,000 third-year graduate students unable to read,” she said. “Reading in grade three is the primary academic predictor of post-secondary success. … We have to change this trajectory, and we have to use science and data to do it.

What about underserved students?

Data disaggregated by race, income and learning differences was not available at the time of publication. Truitt said she had not seen the most recent disaggregated data, but said she memorized some of the data from the 2018-19 school year and was worried, especially about the consequences in subsequent classes.

“What this tells us is that 67% of eighth graders in North Carolina start high school without being proficient,” Truitt said. “Forty-eight percent of Hispanic students start ninth grade [not proficient], and 14% of African Americans. So we can only guess what this disaggregated data looks like [now]. “

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When the state passed Read to Achieve in 2012, summer reading camps were a centerpiece of legislation to support late students.

Recent data, however, has shown low attendance rates of students eligible for priority enrollment in summer reading camps. Only about 30% of eligible first and second graders attended a reading camp. Only 46% of eligible third year students participated.

The data also underscores the urgency of current efforts to improve summer reading camps. Of the 17,317 third-graders who attended reading camps statewide, only 15% were found to be proficient afterwards. Only about 9% of the 16,789 second-graders and 18,862 first-graders were subsequently found to be proficient.

A way forward thanks to EPSA?

The state enacted the Excellent Public Schools Act 2021 to address the still bleak landscape of early reading.

The law, which aims to improve the preparation and teaching of teachers by introducing them to the science of reading, provides that every teacher in kindergarten through fifth grade receives training in essential elements of the language for teachers of reading and spelling (LETRS). DPI has organized this training in three district cohorts by 2024. The first cohort started in August and the second will start in January.

The law also requires the DPI to create a set of standards for the teaching of literacy. In an update to the board on Wednesday, the deputy director of academic standards, Kristi Day, clarified that these standards are different from the standard curricula, which the board approves for academic subjects.

While the standard curriculum sets a level of expectations for students, the literacy instruction standards that DPI is working on sets a level of expectations for teachers, Day said.

“We’re also working on transition planning and sustainability planning based on what districts already have in place and what they need,” Rhyne said.

Rhyne said the FCRR report suggests that teachers start with a good knowledge base when they start LETRS training. A similar study administered by the FCRR after Mississippi completed statewide LETRS training showed an approximately 14 percentile point increase in teacher knowledge after training.

However, the Mississippi and North Carolina recommendations included a call for academic guidance for reading teachers to help teachers apply their knowledge in teaching.

EPSA does not provide for school guides. While the DPI has regional coaches and plans to support instructional coaches from existing districts and schools, Rhyne said she was unsure whether the General Assembly would provide funding for school reading coaches in the state budget.

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria is the Equity and Learning Differences rapporteur at EducationNC. It exists to shed light, including telling stories about underreported issues.

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