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For one NC county, the reading gap between high and low-income students narrowed during COVID.

Johnny McClung

A new study on a large North Carolina school district found the reading gap narrowed between high and low-income students there during the pandemic.

The study by researchers at NC State's College of Education, in affiliation with researchers at Harvard and other universities, examined the reading scores of third through fifth graders at about 180 elementary schools in an unnamed North Carolina county. The public schools in that county gave students an option between in-person or virtual learning in fall 2020.

It may be unsurprising that students who spent more time in the classroom in 2020 showed more growth in reading.

NC State Assistant Professor Jackie Relyea is a researcher on the study. She says they found students who chose to go to school in person tended to be lower income, and started out further behind their classmates in reading.

“And then we realized the students who chose the in-person instruction, they kind of caught up with their counterparts, which is students who chose the fully remote instruction.“

She said the study supports that in-person learning matters as students focus on recovering from pandemic learning losses. She also highlighted the need to differentiate instruction for students based on their individual needs.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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