A preliminary report before the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) found that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of students meeting Grade 1 reading level expectations fell by approximately 10% when compared to the 2018-2019 school year. 

“There is nearly a ten percentage point difference in the proportions of students meeting grade level reading expectations in virtual schools in January 2021 (45%) when compared to pre-pandemic percentages (54%) in January of 2019,” the preliminary findings read. 

“Overall, in considering the percentage point shifts and differences, the pandemic seems to have disrupted literacy learning for many early elementary students to large degrees. Given the importance that literacy capacity has on future academic success throughout elementary and secondary schooling, these data are concerning.” 

On the other hand, secondary school performance seems to have improved as a result of the pandemic, the report notes. 

TDSB secondary schools reported a significant spike in average marks for Grade 9 to 12 courses taken by students in the region. 

According to the report, the student failure rate has gone down 2%, while the number of students in the 80-100 grade range has increased “significantly” by 9% to 16% when compared to the years before the pandemic. 

“The TDSB set specific assessment policies at the outset as well as during the pandemic that may have affected how teachers approach summative assessments and grading in general,” the report continued. 

“In TDSB secondary schools, culminating activities designed to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate understanding of course content now include a broader range of possibilities. Final exams traditionally worth 30% of a course mark have been reduced to very few or none during the pandemic.” 

Ontario has had some of the most stringent lockdowns when it comes to school closures and virtual learning. Students in the province only returned to in-person learning as of February 16, 2021.

The TDSB is currently undergoing a larger evaluation of the pandemic’s impacts on learning and a completed report is expected by early Summer 2021. 

Last week, the national charitable literacy organization Frontier College told True North that literacy skills were more important than ever if Canada wants to recover from the pandemic completely. 

“The global pandemic has made us realize how critically important it is, now more than ever, to have access to literacy and learning support,” said Frontier College’s Director of Communications Meredith Roberts.

“The economic losses will be more deeply felt by disadvantaged students. All indications show that students whose families are less able to support out-of-school learning will face larger learning losses than their more advantaged peers, which in turn will translate into deeper losses of lifetime earnings.”

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Journalist and Senior Research Fellow

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