America’s Reading Slump is Nothing New

The Hechinger Report recently came out with an article detailing the slump in reading ability across grades and demographics. Surprisingly, this trend did not emerge with COVID.

Even before the pandemic, reading achievement was in a slump. In 2016, U.S. fourth graders slid seven points on an international reading test, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Analysts noted that reading scores of the lowest achieving students had been declining for a decade, and that the 2019 losses — especially steep among low performers — had erased 30 years of progress.

[A Massachusetts teacher] now reviews kindergarten-level phonics with her second graders. On a recent day, a student held up flashcards at the front of the class and led her peers in a call and response chant through the alphabet. In a normal year, the exercise would have been scaled back by this point, Woll said. “But because of the pandemic, I’m still doing those letter sounds every day.”

Educators and researchers are weighing three theories on what is responsible for the decline: money, instruction or reading itself. None of these possible causes are quick to fix. That’s why a Gideon center is needed now more than ever in your community.

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