For many young Anchorage students, meeting pre-pandemic reading goals is still a challenge

A female teacher points to a word projected on a white board in a classroom with three students sitting a tables facing the front of the classroom
Aurora Elementary teacher Brianna Lundberg helps second graders sound out words during an after-school tutoring program in Anchorage on October 23, 2020. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

Many kindergarteners, first-graders and second-graders in Anchorage are struggling to catch up on reading skills. That’s according to data the Anchorage School Board shared at its meeting Tuesday night.

About half of the Anchorage School District kindergarteners, first-graders and second-graders tested were below the benchmark at the start of the year. Of those students, 38% of kindergarteners and 30% of second-graders had “high growth” during the fall. That means while they started out behind, they’re now on target for their grade level. Just 11% of first-graders had high growth.

Superintendent Deena Bishop said some teachers and principals think that so many first-graders have fallen behind because they missed out on important skills as kindergarteners. Some students spent the majority of the 2020-21 school year online.

“Our first-grade teachers above all, especially those who have taught kindergarten, feel as though the first-graders coming in are like kindergarteners they’ve had in the past because of the Zoom,” Bishop said.

Bishop said switching between online learning and in-person instruction is just part of the challenge. More recently, she said, staff shortages and the need for substitute teachers have also made class time feel less consistent.

“I want to be hopeful that students will continue to learn, but we need to be realistic with how much they will, due to all the barriers,” she said. “And I’m just being honest.”

Bishop said it’s important to note that reading goals for halfway through the school year were set before the pandemic.

“It doesn’t mean there’s no growth, it’s just not the expected growth of pre-pandemic, because that’s when the norms were created,” she said.

Bishop said teachers should talk to each other about what’s working in their classrooms. She said coaching from reading specialists could also help.

Of students who were below the benchmark at the start of the school year, 38% of kindergarteners and 30% of second-graders had high growth during fall. Just 11% of first-graders did. (Screenshot from the Anchorage School District school board meeting agenda.)

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