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Literacy rates fell for children during pandemic, study says

Metro libraries and literacy groups are now working to reverse the change.

IOWA, USA — It's been known for a while the pandemic impacts health, but a recent study claims it has also hindered literacy rates in children. Local groups are working to improve that this summer. 

Everybody Wins! Iowa is a nonprofit giving kids one-on-one reading experiences with adult volunteers. Karen Ligas, their executive director, said this downward trend in literacy was clear to them. She said falling literacy rates began when, by necessity, schools introduced virtual learning in 2020.

"Literacy rates have decreased a lot over the pandemic," Ligas said. "A lot of younger kids in particular seemed to be struggling more with reading, vocabulary and not being able to pronounce words."

Statewide early literacy rates in Iowa dropped significantly between the 2019 and 2020 school years: the combined rate for kindergarten through third grade dropped from 68% to 58%. This school year, it rose slightly to 61%. 

LIteracy rate data from Des Moines Public Schools and the Johnston Community School District mirrors the statewide trend. 

Credit: Lynn Meadows

In Johnston, their kindergarten through second-grade rates fell in the 2020 school year, but bounced back for the following school year. The same happened for Des Moines kindergarteners through third graders

Those rates rose slightly this year, but missed the literacy rate DMPS set for itself. 

Now, the Des Moines Public Library is hoping to return literacy rates to pre-pandemic levels with its summer reading program

"This is part of our mission to help our Des Moines public schools and all our families and children to increase those rates," DMPL Director Sue Woody said.

Kids can read for 20 minutes then complete activities, all to win a prize. The program is open to kids 18 and under and starts Monday, June 6.

Both DMPL and Everybody Wins! Iowa said they are also going to summer schools and feeding sites this summer helping kids with their reading.

"The most important thing for our kids is to be able to read for success in school, for success in life," Woody said. 

Text READ to 515-457-1026 to find a free summer reading program near you. 

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