By now we’ve all read the bad news about kids’ reading and math skills having fallen back during the pandemic years.  It’s not a phenomenon that’s new to the U.S., but it is “new news” that, after months of remote learning, reading scores nationwide have declined.  Reading scores were declining before the pandemic, but remote classes appear to have made things worse.

According to The Hechinger Report, a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on only education topics, pre-pandemic, struggling seventh and eighth graders were often reading at a fifth or sixth grade level. Post-pandemic, they’re reading at a third and fourth grade level.


This is not to say that reading levels were not declining before the pandemic. What is true is that, in school years 2020-22, teachers across the U.S. saw more and more kids struggle with reading.  School closures and remote instruction programs made learning more difficult for a large block of students who didn’t have appropriate technology at home and/or didn’t have an adult at home who could help them navigate through the virtual learning experience. 

Many older students got out of the habit of reading at all, other than only on-screen reading that was necessary to get a passing grade. The Hechinger Report (see “Resources,” below) noted that “Even before the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of U.S. students were unable to read at grade level” and that “scores had been getting worse for several years.”

In fact, education researchers have noted that K to 12 reading scores dropped substantially “between 2017 and 2019 on a highly regarded national test known as the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP.)”

According to NAEP’s 2022 “Reading Highlights” report, “average reading scores at fourth grade declined in all four census-defined regions of the country – Northeast, Midwest, South, and West – compared to 2019.” In fact, average scores were lower in 30 states and represented “the largest number of states/jurisdictions with score declines in fourth-grade reading going back to the initial assessment in 1992.”

And it’s not just the U.S. that is experiencing a decline in reading skills among K to 12 students. Martin Hopper, writing for the American Institutes for Research, compiled data about reading habits around the world and found an “even earlier decrease in reading and reading attitudes in other countries.”  According to Hopper, between 2000 and 2018, “fewer 15-year-olds reported reading for enjoyment in 31 out of 39 countries and jurisdictions surveyed by the Program in International Student Assessment (PISA).”

Axios, an Arlington, Virginia-based American news website launched in 2017, noted that “Perhaps the most critical factor at play is the shortage of teachers that has persisted even as students returned to classrooms.” The same Axios article observed that: 

  • Nearly half of public-schools report full-or-part-time teaching vacancies (National Center for Education Statistics, 2023).
  • Reading literacy rates are moving in the wrong direction and more students than ever before are “at medium to high risk for reading difficulties.”
  • “The scope of the issue is large in scale and deserves districtwide, statewide, and national attention.”


Reading level shortfalls are not limited to public schools. Home school students also experience reading difficulties during their K to 12 education experience.  The major difference being that the homeschool teacher/parent is in control of teaching methods, curriculum selection, testing methods, evaluation methods, etc. and can shape a reading program suited to bringing their student(s) up to grade level as quickly as possible.  Some suggestions include:

  • Read aloud to your students every day. This exercise will tweak your child’s imagination and help them to choose to read on their own.
  • Be a reader yourself.  Kids learn by watching their parents. Make reading a routine/regular part of your daily life and the odds will be higher that your kids will do the same.
  • Home schooled children often don’t begin to read until age 8 or 9. Don’t push to begin reading lessons too early. 
  • Search out context-based ways to help your student learn to read. Reading cereal boxes, labels, and instructions, helps kids learn why reading is essential to their lives.
  • Take your student to the library. Help them get a library card and then tour them around age-appropriate sections of the library. Require that they check out at least one book and then include reading that book in your daily reading requirements.


Education research has shown differences between homeschooled and other children in language skills, but few studies have examined how homeschooling is related to acquisition of reading skills. But – research findings do indicate that a rich “literacy environment” at home translates into improved academic achievement. Parental involvement and “literacy expectations” for their children seem to correlate directly with a child’s ability to comprehend what they read. Parents’ personal literacy and reading activities in the home contribute more to a child’s literacy development than the use of any particular model to teach reading. 

The moral to this story:  If you are an avid reader and don’t spend your time parked in front of the television, the odds are high that your children will also be readers.

RESOURCES (K to 12 reading curriculum)

Helping Your Homeschooler Learn to Read – FamilyEducation

Online Reading Program for Struggling Readers (

America’s reading proficiency scores were dropping before the pandemic (

NAEP Reading: Reading Highlights 2022 (

Reading Levels Explained — Just Right Reads

The Unlikely Homeschool: My List of the TOP Book Lists {and other tips for developing a reading culture}