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Report: Big drop in literacy test scores for first graders in Utah

(PHOTO: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – A new report from Utah’s Acadience reading test shows a big drop in literacy for first graders. Megan Buhler says her son’s 1st grade teacher always goes the extra mile to help him. However, that can be a challenge because his school is still holding all their classes online. 

Especially if her son struggles over a word he is reading in a book. 

“She can’t see what’s in front of him,” Buhler says. “Helping him usually involves him spelling the words out loud to her and her telling him what it is.” 

That can take a lot of time, and there is another challenge if the teacher cannot see the book he is reading. 

“If he says a word that makes sense in context, even if it’s not the correct word, she doesn’t even know that he’s made a mistake,” Buhler says. 

That’s why she was not surprised at a new report from The Salt Lake Tribune showing only 46% of first graders in Utah testing at or above benchmark in the state’s Acadience reading test. That is a 14% drop from last year. 

Nine percent fewer second graders also tested at or above benchmark. Third graders saw a 4% decrease. 

Sara Wiebke with the Utah Board of Education has never seen a drop this large on first grade literacy test scores. 

Wiebke, like Buhler, believes the switch to online learning has been a big reason behind the drop. 

“COVID-19 definitely causes some barriers that we had never had to maneuver before,” Wiebke says. “I think it was a lot of learning [about] what are we going to do.”

Wiebke says the drop also mirrors a nationwide dip in childhood literacy rates.  

However, she says some schools that switched to online learning did very well on the Acadience tests. 

“They focused on the most essential skills that they know have to be mastered by the end of the year,” Wiebke says. “And they continued with good instruction and intervention.”


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