When Dr. Seuss penned the now-famous lines, “The more that you read the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,” in 1978, he was onto something. Research has repeatedly proven reading to be a critical component of both childhood development and academic success. But reading ability among Utah kids can differ significantly, so in 1999 the Utah Legislature established the University of Utah Reading Clinic (UURC). The UURC was given two goals: To serve as a resource for parents by offering assessment and intervention for struggling readers and to provide professional development for educators. For 23 years, the UURC has been helping parents with kids struggling to read at grade level and empowering educators to address reading skills in their classrooms, but when COVID-19 hit, demand intensified.
COVID impacted children’s reading skills
When COVID forced schools across the country to close, it severely impacted students’ learning, including their reading skills. Research found that first- through fourth-graders had stalled nationwide in their reading development due to COVID and that educational inequities increased significantly. This research mirrored what the UURC was seeing.
“Within months of COVID, every school administrator and educator we work with at the UURC began citing the negative impacts of COVID on student reading,” said Kathleen Brown, director of the UURC. In fact, over the last 22 months, the UURC has received requests from 19 additional administrators. To meet this increased demand, the UURC contracted with intervention specialists and part-time tutors for two years to scale-up assessment, intervention and professional development for schools and families impacted by the pandemic. “The services we provide were in high demand before the pandemic. COVID just increased demand across the state,” said Brown.
Gov. Spencer Cox invested in Utah kids’ reading skills
In summer 2021, Gov. Spencer Cox awarded $968,861 to the UURC to be paid over two years. This funding was critical in helping the UURC expand its capacity to combat the reading losses children experienced due to the pandemic. Current estimates are that contract specialists and tutors are expanding capacity to serve an additional 400 educators and 11,200 students in schools, in addition to 240 individual children at the clinic. Critically, contract personnel work in Title I schools, which are schools where 40% of families are low income. This means that many of Utah’s most vulnerable students will receive the reading interventions needed to prevent a widening educational gap.
Even though many schools across the state have returned to in-person classes, reading skills are still lagging behind. In addition, high rates of absenteeism among students and educators alike due to illness from COVID put reading skills at continued risk. To help stop additional reading losses, Cox increased UURC funding to $1,321,574 in late 2021.
“I look forward to the impact this investment provided to the University of Utah Reading Clinic will have on struggling readers and their educators across Utah,” said Cox.
This critical funding is helping the UURC team support parents with struggling readers, train educators in reading assessment and intervention and ensure Utah’s kids’ reading skills are where they need to be even in the midst of the pandemic.
“We are so grateful for the governor’s support,” said Brown. “Without funding, the UURC would have been overwhelmed with the increased need that resulted from COVID. There is nothing better than watching a student become a successful reader,” said Brown. “Their confidence goes up, and we know from research that they are far more likely to have continued successes academically. An investment in reading skills is really an investment in a child’s entire academic journey.”
Parents that have a child struggling with reading can contact the UURC and schedule an assessment. If intervention is necessary, the parents will be placed on the UURC waiting list for child-tailored intervention services. For educators, the UURC is available to provide professional development in reading assessment and intervention anywhere in the state.