Twenty percent fewer kindergartners on track to learn how to read than their peers were at this time last year, and most haven’t made much progress since the fall, according to new assessment data released Wednesday.

Thirty-seven percent of this year’s kindergartners are on-track in early reading skills, compared to 55 percent during the 2019-20 school year, just prior to the pandemic. Among first graders, 43 percent are on target, compared to 58 percent last year.

“Teachers are working hard. They’re doing what they can,” said Paul Gazzerro, director of data analysis at Amplify, a K-8 curriculum provider that collected the data from about 400,000 students across 1,400 schools in 41 states. “We’re just not seeing the bounce back that we’re hoping for.”

While all students are performing worse than they would have in a normal year, the gaps are especially pronounced for Black and Hispanic students. Compared to the prior year, 13 percent more white kindergarteners are considered at-risk, while for Black and Hispanic kindergarteners, the increases are 27 percent and 25 percent, respectively”

The results provide further evidence of the crushing effect school closures have had on young children’s early reading development — to the point they might not catch up, Gazzerro said. Amplify’s experts, however, said that while teachers tend to resort to lower-level instruction when children fall behind, it’s important to “double down” with grade-level material and that K-1 provides a key window to close the gap.

“We have a sort of once-in-a-generation chance to catch up these students,” said Susan Lambert, Amplify’s chief academic officer for elementary humanities. She added that providing additional literacy instruction on top of what schools normally schedule could also address “persistent gaps” for students who were already struggling before the pandemic.

Read the full article about reading losses during the pandemic by Linda Jacobson at the 74.