West Salem School District strives to close pandemic-caused reading gaps

WEST SALEM, Wis. (WKBT) — Young students have struggled to catch up after missing critical in-person learning. At West Salem School District, they’re working to fix that learning gap.

It all starts with the ABCs. But, like many things, the pandemic pushed some early learning to the side.

“First graders … weren’t yet putting the pieces together to read actual text, and first grade is usually the big year when that happens,” said Alyssa Harlan, a reading specialist at West Salem.

This created a greater number of learning gaps in young readers.

“They just haven’t met those milestones yet in order to learn the next thing,” said Laura Veglahn, who works in school improvement services for CESA 4.

Schools throughout the country are working to close those gaps.

“Using those local data sources to be able to say ‘where do we need to redirect some of our efforts?’” Veglahn said.

The pandemic wasn’t just a learning curve for kids, it’s been one for teachers, too. But now, at West Salem elementary, educators are finding success in increased reading intervention. Harlan said this groundwork was laid before the pandemic began.

“We just found kind of a higher concentration of some kids who needed some of those more foundational skills. So we were able to find those,” Harlan said.

Since going in person, the district has spent more time focusing on literacy, phonics and motor skills.

“To really help them get those foundational pieces wherever some of those gaps are,” Harlan said.

Administrators and classrooms are working to play catch-up, while also keeping its students on track.

“Not only learning about how improvement goes in this world, but how to support teachers in changing practice. Because we’re all there for the kids,” Veglahn said.

At West Salem Elementary, Harlan says students in first, third and fourth grades have mostly caught up to grade level, while second-graders still have a little ways to go.

Schools nationwide also are budgeting federal money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which includes money to fund reading intervention efforts.

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