Supporting students with reading challenges during COVID

Students with reading challenges need adequate access to internet and support from caregivers to make the reading progress they need during COVID

It’s been said a million times: COVID-19 delivered a school year like no other. The challenges of an abrupt shift to virtual and hybrid instruction shed light on socio-economic disparities, the struggle for internet and device access, and the difficulties in getting resources to students with special needs.

A new survey of more than 800 teachers reveals how teachers of students with reading challenges such as dyslexia, cerebral palsy, and low vision encountered even more challenges as they searched for unique and innovative ways to support learning for these students. The survey comes from nonprofit ebook library Bookshare.

Just 47 percent of surveyed teachers said their students with reading challenges were able to adequately read and learn. When they are able to read and learn, factors such as support from parents or caregivers (69 percent), support from teachers and the school administration (67 percent), access to home internet (77 percent), access to technology resources (79 percent), and access to books in the format students need (75 percent) contribute to students’ ability to learn.

Fifty-nine percent of teachers felt their students with reading challenges had access to the technology, including internet, they needed to adequately learn, 19 percent were unsure, and 22 percent did not believe their students had sufficient access to technology needed to learn. Of that 22 percent, just 17 percent of teachers felt their students with reading challenges were able to adequately study and learn during the fall semester.

The digital divide is a persistent roadblock to learning, and only half of all surveyed teachers in schools where a majority of students receive free and reduced-price meals felt their students had sufficient access to technology. More than two-thirds of teachers (68 percent) in schools where less than one-quarter of students receive free and reduced-price meals felt their students had sufficient access to technology.

Meeting accommodations for students with reading challenges–and all students with special needs–has been particularly challenging during COVID. Fifty-eight percent of surveyed teachers agreed or strongly agreed that they were adequately meeting their students’ individualized learning plans, such as IEPs or 504 plans.

But still, access to technology is key, and only 28 percent of teachers who did not believe their students had sufficient access to technology felt that they were adequately meeting their students’ IEPs.

Seventy-four percent of teachers who believed their students with reading challenges had sufficient access to technology felt they were adequately meeting their students’ IEPs.

While 69 percent of teachers said parent and caregiver support at home impacts student learning, only 26 percent of teachers agreed that students had that caregiver support needed to read and learn at home.

Sixty-seven percent of surveyed teachers were confident that their students had access to books in accessible formats, including audio, braille, and large font. Teachers provided accessible books to their students with reading challenges through Bookshare, publisher websites, Epic!, and Audible.

Laura Ascione
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