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CiiL assesses impact of class suspension on reading skills


Study by the Research and Intervention Center in Reading at P.PORTO reveals a “worrying” impact on the reading level of 1st grade children

More than a quarter of children in the 2nd year of schooling in Porto started the new school year with a “very poor” reading level. It is the consequence of almost four months of suspension from classes, due to the pandemic, concludes a study by the Center for Research and Intervention in Reading (CIIL), from the Polytechnic of Porto.

According to this study, 27% of 2nd year students showed very poor reading performance at the beginning of the school year. “These children read so slowly that they do not understand what they are reading”, explains Ana Sucena, a researcher at the Polytechnic of Porto and project coordinator.

During the 1st year it is expected that children learn to read and at the end of the year that they will be able to read small texts and extract meaning from them, understand the statement of a math problem, for example. "This is not happening", stresses Ana Sucena. The reality "is worrying" and "incompatible with what is expected at the beginning of the 2nd year of schooling".

The results also reveal that children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are the most penalized. If among 2nd year students who come from non-disadvantaged backgrounds there is 22% in the “very poor” reading level, among children from needy families the figure is ten percentage points higher. Children with a “very poor” reading level are in what the researchers call the 10th percentile - that is, they perform less than what is presented by 90% of the population studied. At the next level (25th percentile) 10% more children are assessed. Their reading level was classified as "fragile".

The situation "is not so dramatic, but continues to fall short of what would be expected at this stage of the school journey", explains the researcher. The work covered 542 children from the 2nd year of schooling from 11 school groups in Porto - about a third of the county's population at that level of education. It is a study of screening reading skills that uses a test previously validated for the Portuguese population.

The team had already used this tool with students from schools in Porto, with whom it has been working since 2015, which allows comparisons to be made. In previous years, in the same territory, with face-to-face classes, the sum of children with “very poor” and “fragile” skills was around 25%. This year it is 37%. Ana Sucena considers that the results now found are due to the suspension of face-to-face classes due to the Covid-19 pandemic: “A quarter without classes was a long time.” This assessment of the reading skills of students in the 2nd year of schooling in schools in Porto was made at the start of the new term. "It reflects the way we found the children", says the coordinator.

The project also includes the creation of a strategy of intervention, which was applied by teachers in the first five weeks of the new year to recover learning. Now, the team of researchers will apply the same study to understand the evolution. Ana Sucena Santos predicts, however, that the most fragile students will need “Much more intensive work time.”

The CiiL project is the result of a partnership between the Polytechnic of Porto, the Porto Chamber and the Ministry of Education. Since 2018, it has benefited from European funding, namely through the NORTE 2020 Operational Program, at investment priority to combat school failure, within the scope of the Integrated and Innovative Plans to Combat School Failure (PIICIE).