Early reading skills see a rebound but racial gaps have grown wider, tests show

The return of in-person learning last spring led to a boost in young children’s reading skills, but performance hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels and racial gaps have grown wider, according to new data from curriculum provider Amplify.

Compared to winter results, the end-of-year data on the widely used Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, shows that fewer students were at risk of not learning to read – a decline to 38 percent from 47 percent in kindergarten and a drop to 32 percent from 43 percent at first grade. But the scores at third grade, a critical year for developing more advanced reading skills, haven’t bounced back in the same way.

The results provide some hope that a full in-person return to school this fall could see young children quickly regain the early literacy skills they missed while learning from home. But students entering fourth grade might need more targeted support to get back on track not only in English language arts but across other content areas as well. In keeping with anecdotal evidence and other assessment results, the Amplify data confirms that the severe disruption in learning caused by the pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black and Hispanic students, but the setback for white students has been minor.

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