How a Pandemic Learning Loss Pushed Children Further Behind

April 18, 2023

Pandemic Learning Loss

For children, the Covid-19 pandemic inflicted damage beyond the virus; as the country shutdown to stop the spread, schools closed their doors to in-person learning, and, in the process, altered the daily routine and diminished access to education for millions of students.

Remote learning became a new normal, but the quality of this instruction was not equal for all students. Some had access to tools and technology that enabled them to participate in virtual lessons. Other children had little access to technology. This educational inequity combined with other factors contributed to a pandemic learning loss that has pushed many children further behind.

While educational inequities during the pandemic likely exacerbated learning loss for students from low-income households, a study published in the Journal of Nature Human Behavior found that students across the globe missed a significant amount of learning and noted  “…that students lost out on about 35% of a normal school year’s worth of learning.”

Pandemic Learning Loss

Has My Child Experienced Learning Loss?

Parents might not know if their child has fallen behind because of the pandemic. Children who attend public schools and who are in third grade (or above) take a year-end standardized test that measures proficiency in math and reading (as well as other subjects for older students). These test scores can help parents understand their child’s proficiency related to these core subjects.

If a child scores Basic or Below Basic on these tests, they are not at the level that is expected. A ‘proficient’ score means that the child has understood the content and can properly apply it; ‘proficiency’ equals subject mastery.

English/Language Arts (ELA) assessments measure reading ability, writing and other subject areas. Parents can review their child’s reading score on the year-end assessment to gauge reading proficiency. In addition, many school districts assess each student’s reading growth, reading level and reading fluency throughout the year. These regular assessments also help parents understand their child’s progress throughout the year and how their child scores related to grade-level expectations.

Pandemic Learning Loss

What to Do When a Child has Fallen Behind?

When parents review a year-end state assessment or a mid-year reading assessment, they might realize that their child isn’t reading at the expected level. What can parents do if their child has experienced learning loss related to reading proficiency?

Overcoming months of learning loss can take time; parents shouldn’t expect a child to catch up overnight. However, regular enrichment and additional practice at home could help children move ahead and begin to catch up on lost learning.

Parents can use these five tips to help children improve their reading ability at home:

  • Use audiobooks as an additional tool
  • Encourage children to read aloud
  • Play phonics games
  • Use visual tools while reading
  • Use a lesson-based reading app

Encourage Children to Listen to the Book as they Read

Some children learn best if they can hear a lesson; reading lessons can integrate audiobooks that allow them to listen as they follow along in the book. Listening to a story as they read can help some children better understand the story or learn difficult words. Audiobooks are narrated and allow children to identify the emotions of characters, too.

Children Should Read Aloud to Parents

How does the child struggle? Are they having difficulty with sounding out words? Do they struggle with comprehension? Sit with children as they read aloud. This can help parents better identify their child’s reading struggle and learn how to help them.

If parents notice that children have difficulty sounding out words, additional phonics instruction could be beneficial. Some children struggle to answer questions about the book; they might not be able to summarize the plot, talk about how the character feels or even make predictions about what might happen next. These are comprehension issues; children might need to be guided on how to read between the lines.

Comprehension is more abstract than phonics. Teaching comprehension involves utilizing tools and techniques to help children think about the book on a deeper level. Parents can teach children to chunk text to break down the story in smaller parts (and talk about what’s happening). Visual tools also can help children who struggle with comprehension.

When Fluency is a Concern, Play Phonics Games

Children who struggle to sound out words (decoding) can struggle with fluency. Since they cannot read a word quickly, they will read fewer words per minute. When fluency is part of the reading struggle, parents might need to go back to basics for reading instruction.

Phonics lessons help children learn the sounds of letters and how these sounds make up a word. Phonics also teaches blends, patterns and more. Parents can find apps that can help children work on phonics skills; these apps often are designed as games to help improve engagement.

Teachers also could help parents understand how to help children work on phonics and improve their decoding skills. Teachers might be able to send home additional phonics worksheets or other enrichment activities. In addition, some sites include phonics worksheets that parents can print for free.

These Visual Tools Can Help Improve Comprehension

Children who struggle to talk about the basics of the book—who, what, where, when, why and how—might have difficulty with the comprehension aspect of reading.

Comprehension expectations become more difficult and abstract as children move into higher grade levels. Children will be expected to infer meaning from content and make predictions about what will happen in the book using clues as their context. In high school, students will compare and contrast characters or even use a book’s theme to apply to modern day events.

How can parents teach children how to better understand what they read? Teaching comprehension can be challenging, but visual tools could be helpful. Parents can print out a reading comprehension bookmark that includes prompts that help children remember what they need to think about as they read. Children also could make their own bookmark to use as a visual cue. The site What I Have Learned includes some reading comprehension bookmark examples; parents can download these for free, too.

To guide comprehension, parents also can encourage children to use sticky notes to write down important points from the story. Each chapter of the book might have a different colored sticky note.

Some children also could benefit from using graphic organizers. These worksheets are designed with spaces for children to write details about the story; graphic organizers tend to focus on a specific literary element like theme, characters, etc.

Use a Reading Tutoring App at Home

Children who have experienced significant reading loss related to the pandemic can use Readability to gain fluency and confidence. Readability serves as a reading tutor; the program offers a built-in AI tutor that works with children and provides feedback and encouragement as they read.

Children read books aloud through the program. At each reading level, children have access to a library of book titles (both fiction and nonfiction). The AI tutor measures the child’s reading fluency (measured in words read per minute) and tests their comprehension, too.

With Readability, children only advance to the next reading level when they demonstrate proficiency in both comprehension and fluency. The program ensures that children develop mastery at each reading level.

Parents can follow their child’s progress via a private portal within the program. This portal shows the child’s reading level, comprehension mastery, and reading fluency. Parents can also see how long their child used the program.

Learning loss associated with the pandemic’s virtual learning pivot has impacted many children. Parents who are concerned about their child’s reading proficiency can explore Readability for free—sign up for a free seven-day trial period today.