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Did Students Lose Reading Skills During COVID?

This quick article presents the research behind student learning during COVID as it pertains to reading competencies. But before we look at the research let’s recap some common sense.

Ask any teacher, and you’ll get one of two stories:

  1. My students missed out on so much instruction
  2. My students thrived in my online environment.

Ask any parent who withdrew their child from school during COVID (2020-2021), and you will also get one of two stories:

  1. My child really missed being at school and struggled with assignments
  2. My child loved the homeschooling and accelerated!

These anecdotes tell us one thing for sure, gaps between learning broadened among peers. Some students learned more (got ahead) and others learned less (fell behind).

So what says the research?

The Effect of Online Learning on Reading Comprehension Skills

In a study of schools that used a variety of online tools: YouTube, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, WhatsApp, Google Meet, Flipped Classroom Models, and some Reality Games it was discovered that students had an increase in engagement using Flipped Classroom Models (teacher videos) vs. other forms of online learning (Setyosari, 2021).

1st-graders and 2nd-graders in the coming school years are going to have larger reading gaps than students in previous years.

Researchers in another study in Germany summarized large-scale reading competency tests (focused on comprehension strategies and basic word knowledge & reading skills) and revealed a drop in reading scores after just two months of school closers due to COVID (Johannes, 2022). Additionally, low-achieving students had a “backlog” of missed learning that compounds the problem of comprehension skills gaps.

66% Loss in Reading Skills Among Kindergartners

Another study presents a mathematical model to predict reading skills loss among Kindergartners. Essentially, we know what primary level students “lose” in terms of reading skills after two months of summer break. This isn’t a hard-and-fast truth. It’s an average that applies to most students. Some students lose nothing over summer, some students lose a lot over summer (Read More About the Reading Summer Slide Here).

Armed with this information, researchers estimated that students in kindergarten during COVID-19 school shutdowns lost an average of 66% of reading skills compared to students from non-COVID-19 school year (Bao, 2020).

This means that 1st-graders and 2nd-graders in the coming school years are going to have larger reading gaps than students in previous years.

“The rate of reading ability gain in kindergarten children during COVID-19 school closures without formal in-person education will decrease 66% (2.46 vs. 7.17 points/100 days), compared to the business-as-usual scenario, resulting in a 31% less reading ability gain from 1 January 2020 to 1 September 2020.”

Bao, 2020

Did Students Experience Reading Loss Due to COVID-19?

The answer is a clear, resounding yes. By and large, reading skills are not what they were prior to COVID-19. Educators are well-aware of this and need a variety of tools to help increase reading comprehension skills in the coming years and reading resources that focus on fundamental reading skills.


Bao, Xue, Hang Qu, Ruixiong Zhang, and Tiffany P. Hogan. 2020. Modeling reading ability gain in kindergarten children during COVID-19 school closures” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 17: 6371.

Johannes Schult, Nicole Mahler, Benjamin Fauth & Marlit A. Lindner (2022) Did students learn less during the COVID-19 pandemic? Reading and mathematics competencies before and after the first pandemic wave, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, DOI: 10.1080/09243453.2022.2061014

Setyosair, Kuswandi, and Widiati, 2021. Reading comprehension skills: The effect of online flipped classroom learning and student engagement and student engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. European Journal of Education v10 n4 p1613-1624. Hanover, MD.






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