(Headline USA) Students spread out in their rural Kansas classroom, answering questions with a partner about invaders atop elephants attempting to sack Rome.
The instructor, Bekah Noel, told her students to jot down answers for their partners if they needed extra help writing or spelling.
Halfway through the school year, with some of her students reading nearly 200 words per minute and others struggling to sound out around 10, she has had to make a lot of tweaks like this.
Exiting from the pandemic, the assumption might be that Noel’s students should be among the least scathed. The tiny, 900-student school system in Columbus pivoted to remote learning briefly in March 2020 before going back in person that fall. While some U.S. students spent a year or more learning online, pandemic school in rural Kansas was as normal as it got.
Though less damaged than others, the upheaval still took a toll.
Social distancing made it hard to teach kids in small groups, and with teachers and students taking extended sick days, the pace of teaching ground to a crawl.
Three years later, Noel has more third graders than ever who are reading below grade level. That’s the true elephant in the room.
Noel is used to adapting to students’ needs, and she has been pulling out all the strategies in her toolkit. She pairs strong and struggling students, reads questions aloud and jots down dictated answers for students to rewrite in their own handwriting.
As the ‘pandemic’ was raging, the district also adopted a new strategy: a reading curriculum that is heavy on phonics — a stressful gamble that the science-backed curriculum might help kids catch up.
Across the country, federal data show, the disruptions wrought by COVID policies were accompanied by widespread learning setbacks.
Among those showing the largest learning losses are this year’s crop of third graders, who were in kindergarten when the pandemic hit, a foundational year for learning to read.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press
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