Are kindergartners falling behind in reading due to the pandemic? Amplify and iReady want us to think so.
But kindergarten teachers should not be forcing children to learn to read during the pandemic. They shouldn’t have been pushing them to read before Covid-19. Nor should kindergartners be forced to read after the coronavirus becomes a bad memory.
Children always used to begin formal reading instruction during first grade. Expecting kindergartners to read by the time they get to first grade is bizarre. Still, by making children look like they’re falling behind, companies can make money on reading remediation and tutorial programs. During the pandemic it’s called the covid slide.
Education Week promotes this wrong message in Students’ reading losses could strain schools’ capacity to help them catch up. They say Amplify and iReady claim children fall behind in reading because they are entering first grade not knowing how to read.
It’s going to cost billions, according to iReady, to remediate these so-called reading problems. Where will the money go? To the same programs saying that reading is a problem!
They say it could cost $42 billion to provide two-week intensive reading academies to catch up six months of instruction for half of the U.S. public schoolchildren who need it, and $66 billion to catch those students up on one to two years’ worth of lost instruction using daily tutoring over the course of a year.
In the Education Week report, it’s the supporters of Amplify and iReady; both questionable Common Core-aligned online programs, who say children are behind. I’ve written about iReady and the pandemic before, so I will focus on Amplify.
They also say:
The most comprehensive study to date of pandemic-related learning loss in the earliest grades finds that some 40 percent of 1st graders have come to school this fall significantly behind in early literacy skills—particularly around phonics—and they will need intensive interventions to prevent them from ending the year reading below grade level. The study confirms that even the youngest students are experiencing the so-called “COVID slide,” and counters some recent studies that suggested there have been minimal losses in reading.
In the fall of 2020, 1.26 million students were assessed with mCLASS. Amplify’s review of beginning-of-year data from DIBELS® reveals significant instructional loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These data are collected by teachers interacting directly with students one-on-one, either live or over video.
It’s phonics that children supposedly miss. But concerns abound about the use of DIBELS as an assessment are described well in the Answer Sheet’s Is this really how we should test reading development in children?
Supporters of DIBELS argue that it is only ever to be used as a single indicator. But, the last decade of standardized testing has convincingly demonstrated that what is tested will be taught: exactly how it is tested. Similarly, what is suggested by the glossy, colored charts assessment data DIBELS software automatically generates, will be believed.
DIBELS focuses too much on speed and nonsense syllables. It’s a hangover from the scandalous Reading First program. See this also from Education Week in 2001, National clout of DIBELS test draws scrutiny.
Tulsa teachers reviewed Amplify before and found it to be age inappropriate.
With pandemic woes, school districts may struggle to survive, but will it be a cash cow for companies selling reading programs? Larry Berger, chief executive officer of Amplify, not an educator, says:
One of the most expensive problems you can create is a kid who does not master phonemic awareness by the end of 1st grade. So even if you have limited money, you might want to move it toward that problem, because that failure to learn to read has cascading downstream effects that are well known. I think districts that are taking this seriously are saying OK, I have limited resources but this is a triage situation.
It was just yesterday that third grade was the year children were supposed to be reading. Now it’s first grade!
Falling behind due to Covid-19 opens the flood gates for online programs to sell their remediation and tutorial materials, especially to those convinced children must read before first grade.
Amplify appeared in 2012, born of Wireless Generation, purchased by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in 2010, and provided assessment, analytics, and data-driven instruction for the next-generation Common Core State Standards. Joel Klein, a lawyer and charter school and school choice enthusiast, who angered many educators and parents during his reign as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, became Amplify’s CEO, asking the question Can Technology Save Education?
Amplify failed. Few school districts wanted to invest in it. Enter the Emerson Collective, a philanthropic organization founded by Lauren Powell Jobs, not an educator, who purchased it in 2015. The company is trying to revitalize, and one of their ploys is using the Science of Reading. Many of the individuals who highlight the Science of Reading do podcasts for Amplify, even though it’s difficult to find research showing Amplify is the science of anything.
Amplify is one of many attempts to transform public schooling into technology, and with the pandemic, that seems to have been made easier.
Ask who’s benefiting from all this reading deficit talk before jumping to conclusions that children have reading problems. Then collect as many picture books as possible to share with young learners. Use the pandemic to move away from this wrong notion that children must read by the time they enter first grade.
Sparks, S.D. (2020, December 15) Students’ reading losses could strain schools’ capacity to help them catch up. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/students-reading-losses-could-strain-schools-capacity-to-help-them-catch-up/2020/12
Strauss, V. (2014, June 25) Is this really how we should test reading development in kids? The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/06/25/is-this-really-how-we-should-test-reading-development-in-kids/
Manzo, K.K. (2001, September 27) National clout of DIBELS test draws scrutiny. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/national-clout-of-dibels-test-draws-scrutiny/2005/09
I felt the same way about not rushing them but am now completely freaking out because I have figured out they do not teach phonics or beginning reading at all in first grade curriculum. So if they don’t learn in kindergarten they are lost. They are teaching crazy stuff like writing poetry & plural possessive nouns now in first grade & I can’t find any sound/letter association practice or instruction. So many are being referred for Dyslexia & SpEd. Tragic
Nancy Bailey says
I’m wondering, who says they’re lost? Is this one school?
Thanks for sharing, Mary.
Stephen Krashen says
Here is some real evidence that “early” is not the answer”. Krashen, S. 2014. Literacy education: Need we start early? Language and Language Teaching (Azim Premji University and the Vidya Bhawan Society), 3(2)(9): 1-7. https://tinyurl.com/sddlsmh
Nancy Bailey says
This is great! Thank you for sharing, Dr. Krashen. It is especially timely considering all the discussion about phonics and covid slide.
I especially appreciated this and parents should too:
Another set of cases of readers who started late but caught up through voluntary reading comes from Fink (1995/6). Fink studied 12 people who were considered dyslexic when they were young, who all became “skilled readers”. Out of the 12 people, 9 published creative scholarly works and one was a Nobel laureate. Eleven out of these people reported that they finally learned to read between the ages of 10 and 12 (p. 273), and one did not learn to read until the 12th grade.
According to Fink, these readers had a lot in common:
“As children, each had a passionate personal interest, a burning desire to know more about a discipline that required reading. Spurred by this passionate interest, all read voraciously, seeking and reading everything they could get their hands on about a single intriguing topic” (pp. 274-275).
I shared your article on FB with this comment.
Shameless curriculum publishers like iReady and Amplify are frothing at the mouth as they estimate the amount of money they say it will cost to help students catch up. And they are more than happy to develop materials they claim will do the job. I hope and pray district and state superintendents do not throw away precious funding by succumbing to fear-mongering by these money-grubbing corporate snakes.
These very companies are the primary reason learning to read is forced on kindergartners (vs. 1st grade) despite a hundred years of research which determines conclusively that five and six is developmentally INAPPROPRIATE for learning reading.
And pushing academics via worksheets, computer programs and testing in K is why play – the OPTIMAL way kids learn- is disappearing.
Hold onto your wallets, state & district superintendents!
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, Phyllis. I agree about the funding. I hope it will be prioritized in a just and useful manner.