This post is contributed by Shafiqua Little, Ph.D., a Data Analyst with Learn4Life, the Metro Atlanta Regional Education Partnership, which includes Neighborhood Nexus and ARC.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, students in the metro Atlanta region were making progress in 3rd grade literacy, with rates of students proficient and above increasing 5 percentage points between the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years. For Black and Latinx students the percentage of students proficient and above in 3rd grade literacy increased by 5 and 4 percentage points respectively.

The pandemic’s impact on our education and social structures, however, is threatening these gains.

Learning loss projections from a study commissioned by Learn4Life and redefinEd Atlanta suggest that if students had taken the Milestone assessments in spring 2020, the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency in 3rd grade literacy would drop 3.5 points from the previous school year. The achievement projections are more concerning for Black, Latinx, and economically disadvantaged students in the metro Atlanta region. Learning loss projections report that just 3 out of 10 underserved students (for e.g. Black, Latinx, and economically disadvantaged students) are on track to grade-level proficiency, reversing gains made leading up to 2020.

With the 2020-2021 school year underway, it is important for districts to understand how the unique challenges ushered in by COVID-19 impact early grade literacy. The existing evidence suggests that the pandemic has had a profound impact on children’s mental health, food insecurity, school and classroom climate, student engagement, summer learning loss, and teacher preparation, all of which shape student achievement.

Here’s an overview of what we know thus far:

Teacher Preparation– The decision to close schools thrust teachers into online teaching platforms, with little to no preparation (Golinkoff, Hadani, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2020). And while large scores of parents have had to turn into teachers overnight many are not equipped to provide the educational experiences that benefit early learners.

Classroom climate – There are early reports of students experiencing isolation from their social networks (Loades et al., 2020) and of teachers struggling to forge relationships with students they have never met (Schwartz, 2020).

Summer learning loss – The COVID slide is expected to yield a 30% learning loss in reading compared to summer learning loss which yields about a 20% learning loss (Hathaway, 2020; Kuhfeld, 2018). And while schools are working to address learning loss, mitigating COVID’s impact on achievement may prove daunting as teachers report how challenging it has been to keep students, especially early learners, on task during remote learning (Schwartz, 2020).

Food insecurity – School closures have exacerbated existing inequalities as studies continue to report that students who depend on school meal programs continue to grapple with access to nutrition (Van Lancker & Parolin, 2020). Currently one out of four students in metro Atlanta face food insecurity.

Mental health – School closures make it difficult for students and families to access the mental health resources they usually have through schools (Hoffman & Miller, 2020). Early reports suggest that school personnel are struggling with identifying and reporting signs of abuse and neglect, an issue that is further complicated as students are not forthcoming about the problems they are experiencing because of privacy issues at home (Jones, 2020).

The L4L Early Literacy Change Action Network has begun to prioritize these factors to identify strategies and interventions that are “bright spots” that can be scaled to help our students catch up on lost learning time. If you are interested in joining this work please join our Early Literacy Network here. Learn more about the challenges faced by Metro Atlanta students here in the full COVID Factor Analysis.