COSHOCTON — The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the reading skills of Ohio’s youngest college students, according to state data.
Third-grade reading fluency declined statewide, from 67% in the 2018-19 school year to 51.9% in 2020-21, said LM Clinton, school policy administrator. Literacy from the Ohio Department of Education.
“Third grade is definitely a critical point in a child’s development, their reading development, and their overall academic development,” Clinton said.
2020-2021 Ohio State Test for English Language Arts scores for third-graders fell in all school districts in Coshocton County compared to 2018-19 scores, according to state data.
Spring testing for the 2019-2020 school year has been canceled due to COVID-19 due to school closures and the shift to distance learning.
The test has five benchmarks or levels of ability: limited (with scores between 551 and 671), basic (672-699), proficient (700-724), accomplished (725-751), and advanced (752-870).
Schools in the city of Coshocton saw third-grade reading rates drop from 68.6% in 2018-2019 to 43.7% from 2020-2021. Ridgewood dropped from 81.2% to 57%. River View went from 83.3% to 51.6%.
Teachers use inventive ways to encourage reading. Coshocton Elementary School recently held an event called Book Tasting for third graders. The children spent time looking at books at different stations. They wrote down their first thoughts and wrote down the books they wanted to read. The teachers wore aprons and served snacks, pretending they were running a cafe.
“We do this to get kids interested in different genres of books. At the third-grade level, they tend to choose mostly fiction books. It’s a way to expand their book repertoire,” said the teacher Denise McPeak. “The students were really excited and wanted to do it again the next day.”
Teacher Amy Unkefer said she got the concept for a website with ideas and activities for teachers. They did it for the first time last year.
“There are usually several kids who say, ‘I would never take this book,’ but they tried it and liked it,” she said.
Not only have students slipped back in their literacy during the pandemic, Unkefer said they’ve also lost the ability to interact. The love of reading also helps develop social skills with students interacting with each other and being encouraged to say please and thank you when snacks ranging from biscuits to raisins are handed out.
“It teaches them life skills and how to interact with people in the public in a polite way. They find that they talk to each other more politely. Because I ask them to say ‘yes, please’ and ‘no, thank you.’ You start to hear them saying it to each other,” Unkefer said.
Kaitlyn Ashbrook, director of curriculum and federal programming for the City of Coshocton Schools, said love of reading and other creative initiatives are key to encouraging reading among young people. The District also hosted a recent Family Reading Night and sponsored the Small Free Libraries in District buildings, the Coshocton Fire Department and local housing complexes. She said the district is also considering improving and adding summer and afterschool programs.
“It takes a community to work together to educate our children and we have been encouraged by the support our district has received from the community over the past year,” Ashbrook said.
She admits that the past few years with the pandemic have been a challenge. Instructors find it difficult for students to learn the basics of reading without the support of the classroom environment.
“Without a strong foundation in reading, students will continue to struggle throughout their college careers. Much of the learning they do in higher grades depends on their ability to decode and understand text. “, said Ashbrook. “This continues throughout life. Without the basic skills, they will struggle to complete important tasks like filling out a job application or passing a test for a degree or license needed for the job. We need to prepare our students not only to read for success in third grade, but to read for success in life.”
A widespread problem
The decline in reading skill scores is not unique to Coshocton County, but reflects a common struggle experienced by school districts across Ohio and nationwide.
Students in younger grades have lost about a month and a half of instruction due to remote learning caused by COVID-19 despite concerted efforts, according to nonprofit testing organization NWEA.
“It doesn’t sound very impactful, but when you think about how little these students have in person at school, it’s a big learning loss,” said Laura Hansen, senior content manager for English language arts. and Program Advocacy at the NWEA.
A March 2021 study from the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that second- and third-grade students were most affected by the impact of the pandemic on first-grade student learning.
Researchers looked at 250,000 reading fluency scores of first- through third-graders in spring and fall 2020 across more than 100 school districts in 22 states. They found that reading fluency dropped in 2020, with early graders’ ability to read aloud quickly and accurately about 30% lower than in a typical year.
“Reading is something of a gateway to the development of academic skills across disciplines,” Ben Domingue, assistant professor at Stanford GSE and study author, said in a statement. “It’s a key that opens all doors. If a child can’t read effectively in about third grade, they’re unlikely to be able to access content from their other classes.”
The Ohio State Test for English Language Arts is administered twice a year – once in the fall and once in the spring.
While both tests were administered in the 2020-21 school year, fewer students took state tests due to remote learning, Clinton said. There is no option available for students taking online tuition.
Prior to the pandemic, students who could not read at the grade level by the end of the third grade were held back under the state’s third-grade reading guarantee. In December, Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill that exempts districts from collateral retention requirements for that school year.
However, if a student’s principal and teacher, in consultation with the student’s parent, agree that the student is reading below grade level and is not ready for promotion to fourth grade, the student may be accepted.
According to a 2011 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a charitable foundation focused on improving the well-being of Americans, students who do not master reading in third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without degree than proficient children readers. The number increases when these students also come from poverty.
Leonard Hayhurst of the Tribune contributed to this story.