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Cincinnati Public Schools sets new first-grade literacy goal to make up for COVID-19 learning loss

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Posted at 6:42 PM, Sep 22, 2021

Cincinnati Public Schools is setting a new literacy goal in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which set many of its youngest students behind on important educational milestones such as reading and writing.

The goal: Have all 2,855 first-graders in CPS reading by the end of the year.

Nothing could be more important for their future academic success, curriculum manager Karen Clemons said.

"In order for them to do math, they have to be able to read the math problems,” she said. “For them to be able to do science projects, for anything. Reading is the foundation, so we want to make sure that foundation is built in the first grade."

Every CPS elementary school this year will have a new, dedicated reading specialist whose job specifically focuses on literacy among students in kindergarten and first grade.

“We’re positive,” said Alena Smith, the principal at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy. “We know that there were obstacles due to COVID in the past, but we have our plan and we’re ready to act.”

“Learning loss” is a common educational phenomenon, and it affects more than just reading. At a certain level, it’s normal — it’s what happens when students spend their summer vacation playing, return to school in the fall and struggle with math problems they could have solved quickly before the break.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest disruptions to everyday education in the last century — far more than a summer vacation or a few weeks off in the winter. Recouping that loss, particularly for the youngest students, will take effort from everyone.

First-grade teacher Kelsey Day, who works at Rothenberg Prep, hopes to work with students’ parents and guardians to ensure they’re reading outside of school, not just in her class.

“Just like every school year, kids come in at all different levels,” she said. “So some are on grade level, some above, some a little below. My job is really meeting them where they are and getting them to where they need to be."