October 2, 2023

Third graders struggling the most to recover in reading after the pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic ravaged communities and shuttered schools, many educators and parents worried about kindergarteners who were learning online. That concern now appears well-founded as we’re starting to see evidence that remote school and socially distanced instruction were profoundly detrimental to their reading development.

Children in kindergarten when the pandemic broke out in the spring of 2020 are now roughly eight years old and in third grade this 2022-23 school year. A new report by the nonprofit educational assessment maker NWEA documents that third graders are currently suffering the largest pandemic-related learning losses in reading, compared to older students in grades four to eight, and not readily recovering. 

Learning to read well in elementary school matters. After children learn to read, they read to learn. Poor reading ability in third grade can hobble their future academic achievement.  It also matters to society as a whole. Students who fall behind at school are more likely to be arrested, incarcerated and become teen mothers. A separate December 2022 analysis calculated that if recent academic losses from the pandemic were to become permanent, it would add up to $900 billion in lower lifetime earnings for the 48 million students in public schools.