Reading Achievement is Not Bouncing Back

NWEA (Northwest Educational Association) released a report showing that reading achievement is not returning to pre-COVID levels and the shortcomings are alarming (Lewis & Kuhfeld, July, 2023). If you don’t know, schools and districts across the country subscribe to NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) that assesses reading achievement. This study reports on grades three though eight.

In their study, the authors compared fall to spring reading growth for the 2022-2023 school year (post-COVID) to the average growth for the three academic years preceding the onset of COVID-19 (academic years 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19; pre-COVID). Results for the third-grade, post-COVID cohort showed a gain of 4% over the pre-COVID group. This indeed is encouraging and suggests general improvement over the pre-COVID average. Unfortunately, that’s the end of the good news.

The fourth- and fifth-grade cohorts trailed their pre-COVID counterparts by 1% and 8% respectively, while 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-grade cohorts were 19%, 16%, and 18% behind the pre-COVID cohort. These results suggest the possibility that the reading achievement loss seen in the post-COVID cohorts may be permanent if drastic action is not taken by schools and districts. Additionally, the significant ESSR funding provided by Congress to assist schools with the academic effects of COVID has not made its intended impact.

As we move forward, the significant reading (and math) issues seen by teachers will likely not be alleviated. This means that if reading achievement is to improve in post-COVID students, middle and secondary educators will need to institute new methods to help students with reading.

Lewis, K. & Kuhfeld, M. (2023). Education’s long COVID: 2022–23 achievement data reveal stalled progress toward pandemic recovery. NWEA.