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Analysis: Rural KS early readers suffered steepest declines from COVID school closures

Rural Kansas
Rural Kansas(kwch)
Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 4:50 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Looking at public data, a report from the nonprofit, Reading RoadMap, Inc., found that rural school districts in Kansas experienced the greatest declines in early reading levels between 2019 and 2021, as compared to all school districts in the state.

The report analyzed Kansas State Department of Education English Language Arts (ElA) third grade reading data from 2019 and 2021, noting that testing didn’t happen in 2020 due to school closings.

“The data shows that rural Kansas districts experienced the largest COVID-related early literacy learning losses between those two testing periods,” Reading RoadMap concluded.

Reading RoadMap said the Kansas state reading assessment scores children from Levels 1 though 4 with students in Level 1, only able to display “a limited ability to understand und use the English Language arts skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary readiness.”

“Increase in Level 1 is very problematic as early reading deficiencies have life-long effects. In fact, low early reading proficiency is directly correlated with lower high school graduation rates,” the organization explained.

The report found that although rural schools only make up 48 percent of all Kansas districts, rural districts in the state made up two-thirds of all Kansas’ districts that saw an increase of 10 points or more in Level 1 readers. Further, Reading RoadMap explained that rural districts made up 82 percent of the districts experiencing an increase of 20 points or more in Level 1.

“COVID-related school closures hurt our striving readers across the board,” said Tabitha Brotherton, Kansas Director for the Reading Roadmap. “But digging deeper shows it hit the rural districts the hardest.”

Reading RoadMap pointed out that students in rural districts face barriers to learning that have made time away from school more significant. Rural students more often lack internet connectivity and don’t have access to as many after-school and tutoring programs. The organization said these differences from suburban and rural districts may help to explain this disparity.

“I think the data released by the Kansas State Department of Education shows that we cannot forget about our rural communities,” Brotherton. “Kansas is a rural state and our kids in rural communities need help,” Brotherton said.

You can view the full report, embedded below or by clicking here and see a video explaining the report here.

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