Covid’s impact: CMS students saw broad declines in reading scores, says Read Charlotte leader

“It hit everyone, every racial group, every socioeconomic group, and every part of our community.”

That was Munro Richardson, executive director of Read Charlotte, talking about how the Covid-19 pandemic negatively impacted local students and their end-of grade reading scores.

Speaking at the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, Richardson used CMS data to make his case:

  • Third-grade white students saw a 15.1% decline.
  • Third-grade Asians saw a 15.9% decline.
  • Third-grade Hispanic saw a 14.7% decline
  • And third-grade Black students saw a 17.4% decline.

While reading scores fell for all races, he said, education experts expected a quick recovery for white and Asian students. Not so much for Black and Hispanic students.

Last year, as the pandemic took hold, Read Charlotte helped launch Reading Checkup , an online tool to help parents assess a child’s reading and comprehension levels. Reading Checkup also offered suggested activities that parents could use with their children to improve reading comprehension.

Richardson worked with CMS and various community groups to reach parents with young children who might need reading assistance.

“The purpose of this is to show that CMS cannot do it alone,” he said. “It’s going to take a much bigger community effort to be able to help get our kids back on track. We can’t help get our kids back on track in silos.”

What CMS is doing

Later on Tuesday, the Political Black Caucus of Charlotte Mecklenburg hosted a Q&A session with top CMS officials, including Superintendent Earnest Winston, to discuss the plight of Black students in the local school system.

According to CMS data, more than half the students in 77 of the district’s 109 schools failed end-of-year testing last year. That number was up from 47 schools where more than half the students failed in 2019.

The schools with the highest failure rates were located mainly in high-poverty neighborhoods with predominately Black populations. In some of those schools, 80% to 90% of students failed their year-end testing.

Winston said CMS is taking measures to address the district’s performance issues. In addition to revising the district’s strategic plan, which runs through 2024, CMS also is pulling in community partners to serve as in-school volunteers and tutors, he said.

In addition, Winston said, CMS will use federal dollars to address some of the school system’s most pressing needs.

In June, CMS received $317.5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan, the economic stimulus package passed by Congress in the wake of the pandemic. Only one-third of that money has been budgeted, and Winston said the funds will be available for CMS use until September 2024.

According to Winston, $67.5 million has been budged to address equity-related issues. That includes:

  • $50 million for tutoring programs for the district’s 42 low-performing schools
  • $1 million to address chronic absenteeism, and
  • $7 million to hire school counselors, social workers and psychologists. 

Winston said the district also will invest heavily in teachers, which he called “the key and a significant lever” to academic improvement.

“The most effective tool we have to get students caught up is through effective teaching,” he said.

When asked by the panel whether he would promise to have a plan implemented this school year to fix the system’s lowest-performing schools, Winston nodded.

“We have to prioritize our 42 lowest-performing schools,” he said. “We are in the process of finalizing strategies to support our lowest-performing schools. We will share it first with our board, then the community as well.” 

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