Iowa Department of Education director Ann Lebo says school disruptions during the pandemic have had an impact on elementary students who’re learning to read.

“Every year Iowa schools screen students in K-3 to ensure they are on track to be proficient readers by the end of third grade,” Lebo says. “This fall we saw a drop in literacy screening scores for each of grades K-3, but most significantly for first grade. Decreases range from 5 percentage points for kindergarten to 21% for first grade.”

Lebo suggests with half the school year left, there’s still time to “intervene” with students in the early grades who’re having difficulty reading.

“Meeting students where they’re at and helping them grow is challenging under normal conditions,” Lebo says, “but the continued passion and commitment of our educators and school leaders has shown that we can adapt and will continue to do so.”

A recent study found students who cannot read at grade level when they finish third grade are four times more likely to drop out and not finish high school. Test scores from last year showed only 35% of Iowa 4th graders were considered proficient readers, meaning they were able to read material at or above their grade level.