While previous reports suggested that early intervention in reading had a modest positive effect, recent evidence suggests that there is still a long way to go.

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Students from low-income families, those who speak English as a second language, and color students in particular received less literacy training last year because their counties, according to a Michigan state report, were more likely to work completely online. Innovative Cooperation in University Education Policy (EPIC).

“It’s a matter of equity,” said Catherine Strank, co-author. “If these students get even less time to study, the gaps will increase.”

Experts are urging schools to use federal funds on COVID to strengthen students ’reading skills through tutoring, teacher training and summer schools. While many districts are already implementing these programs, the pandemic continues to hamper education across the state.

EPIC researchers relied on surveys and test results to track student progress since the adoption of the Third Grade Reading Act. The controversial part of the Conservation Act, which requires schools to restrain third-graders with particularly low English scores, was suspended in 2019-20 due to a pandemic.

Highlights of the 194-page report include:

  • In a survey of nearly 7,000 Michigan teachers, most said that during last year’s pandemic, they spent less time learning to read compared to last year. The same goes for other subjects. Teachers who taught virtually were particularly likely to report spending less time learning to read.
  • Half of the third-graders of 2020-2021 were included in the lists of “insufficient reading” by their school districts at some point from first to third grade. While individual counties must determine what that means, all students who have received this mark are eligible for additional instruction and reading support.
  • Teacher coaches reported that during the pandemic, they spent less time helping teachers improve literacy training.
  • While 5 percent of students scored low enough in 2020-2021 to detain them for a year, counties intended to retain only 0.3 percent of students.

English language test results across the state fell last yearbut researchers did not include that data in the report, noting that less than three-quarters of students in the state passed the standardized M-STEP exam amid the pandemic.

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