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Half of Michigan 3rd graders fail literacy exam as pandemic learning takes its toll

The Michigan Department of Education said 52 percent of third-graders failed to pass their literacy exams.

MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — Michigan's little learners are still struggling from the effects of the pandemic.

The Michigan Department of Education said third graders were about four months behind in reading and that approximately half of them had failed the state’s literacy exam.  

“We're seeing our students continuing to grow,” Bill O’Brien, Mona Shores Superintendent said.

While Lincoln Park Elementary schoolers have shown promising results in the local literacy assessments their district conducts periodically, new numbers from the Michigan Department of Education have given O’Brien troubling food for thought.

“Kids thrive on consistency and predictability. And for the last two years have been anything but that,” O’Brien explained. “I’m not surprised.”

The data showed one in two third-graders had come up short in statewide literacy assessments, further evidence of the so-called learning loss stemming from the pandemic experts are just beginning to fully understand.

Signs of trouble on the horizon, however, were evident even as early as the start of the last school year, when research showed going remote had resulted in fewer opportunities for the state’s little learners to hone their reading skills.

“It's just an unfortunate situation all the way around. “

Muskegon Heights Superintendent Dr. Arnetta Thompson points to the fact that her third-graders got only two weeks of in-person class time last year.

“We really had to continue to have to teach students how to be back in school,” Thompson said. “Whole learning routines had to be retaught.”

Meantime, the district is putting the education dollars it received from a state Comprehensive Literacy Grant to work in its classrooms.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in our students’ literacy with our local assessments,” Thompson relayed. “What that will translate to for state assessments? We don’t know yet.”

As educators work to identify the full scope of the literacy problem, there’s no apparent quick fix for those months of lost instruction.

“We know, we're going to spend the next three to five years trying to make up some of those opportunities,” O’Brien said.

Mom and dad, O’Brien said, would likely play a central role in the reading recovery at Lincoln Park Elementary.

As far as the administration here is concerned, however, whatever the assessment says, these little learners have already passed the toughest test.

“We're incredibly proud of the work that our kids have been able to do despite going through a pandemic,” he beamed. “What our kids learned to be able to do, because they've gone through this... really a valuable asset.”

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