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Third grade reading proficiency returns to pre-pandemic level at Binghamton schools

CREDIT: New York Now

Being able to read well by the end of third grade has been a major concern for many years. Now, three years after the COVID 19 pandemic, the situation has become even more dire. The interruption in learning caused a large number of students to fall behind in reading skills in schools across the country. Brent Fox spoke with Binghamton City School District Director of Literacy Laura Zanrucha, and MacArthur Elementary School Collaborative Coach Shannon Walker.

Brent Fox: So Shannon, why is third grade the benchmark for when kids need to be reading at or above grade level?

Shannon Walker: When a student moves into third grade, they're learning, they're moving from learning to read, to reading to learn. So students must have a solid foundation in phonics and how words work in order to make this transition.

So it's important that we provide students with explicit instruction in foundational skills beginning in kindergarten and then strengthening those skills in first and second grade.

BF: And Laura, what has the school district seen as far as reading proficiency level in the past few years?

Laura Zanrucha: So the data trends pre-pandemic, if you look at the couple of years before the pandemic, the growth trends were in the positive. We were moving up each year, the pandemic hit, and obviously, that caused a gap in a lot of reading issues with students. But what we've noticed now after doing our mid-year benchmark, we are on trend for our growth to be where it was pre-pandemic. So we are seeing students starting to catch up with all of the things we've been doing and our growth trends are back to where they were pre-pandemic.

BF: And that kind of leads into the next question, which is because we're just now starting to see the effects that these students have faced due to the interruption from the pandemic. So how do you feel it's really affected reading capability in the last few years?

LZ: So I think there's been a lot of deficits around just those foundational skills that students got in kindergarten, first grade. Everyone did their best with Zoom calls and remote or hybrid. But they truly missed that in-person instruction. If you think we, we do a lot of instruction around what does your mouth look like when you make certain sounds and sometimes that's challenging to see and hear on a Zoom call.

So I think a lot of those foundational skills really weren't able to be mastered by students because they weren't exposed to in class and just the challenges that came with the pandemic. So I think that's kind of exposed our students to a lot of deficits that maybe we weren't used to seeing before, that now we're starting to try to catch up on.

SW: And we've really been working to focus our interventions with third through fifth grade in those foundational skills, giving them what they might have missed during the pandemic, that is holding them back from being able to transition into that reading to learn phase of the reading.

BF: And what kinds of resources are available for those students who may be struggling to read at grade level?

LZ: So Binghamton City School offers a lot of resources for all students. It's not just students who are reading one grade level below, it's truly all students. And we utilize a lot of benchmark assessments to really find out what the issue is. So a lot of our elementary schools, we do W.I.N. time, which is "What I need time".

So we take the assessment data, whether it be McKenna and Stahl, Heggerty, to look at what is the issue? Is it phonics? Is it word recognition? Is it CVC words? Where is the issue with each student and then we work accordingly to find them appropriate groups where they can get set intervention on that specific skill, because just because the student has a deficit in one area, doesn't mean they're not successful in other areas. So that targeted intervention really helps close those gaps.

We also have collaborative coaches that go from each building to help teachers and to help students with professional development and coaching cycles. Hey, we have these students struggling what, what is the current research showing us right now that we really need to utilize with these students.

We also have an RTI process, where if a student is struggling, and we, we've tried interventions, and we're trying all these research based practices, and we're still somehow not closing the gap, we go through an RTI process with a team of experts in psychology, social work the teacher interventionists to see really what is an underlying issue that's preventing our students from being successful, and then again providing targeted intervention on that.

SW: And we support all of our phonics intervention, all of our phonics instruction, that explicit instruction all throughout literacy throughout the day. We do this and read alouds, interactive writing, shared writing, shared reading. So we're giving them that explicit targeted instruction that they need and then we're supporting it throughout the day in all areas to make sure that students are getting exactly what they need to be able to achieve at high levels.

BF: I've been speaking with Laura Zanrucha and Shannon Walker from the Binghamton City School District about the importance of reading by the end of third grade.