Unlocking Acceleration

How Below Grade-Level Work is Holding Students Back in Literacy

Unlocking Acceleration publication cover.

To catch up after the pandemic, students need opportunities to do grade-level work. New evidence suggests many still aren’t getting those chances.

Schools are working urgently to help students catch back up to grade level in the wake of the pandemic. But that can only happen if students get consistent opportunities to do grade-level work. Our previous research has shown that when students fall behind, providing access to grade level work with appropriate support (learning acceleration) is the best way to help them catch up—and that delaying access to grade-level work (remediation) practically guarantees they will fall even farther behind.

But are students getting enough opportunities to do grade-level work? We partnered with ReadWorks, a free digital literacy resource used by more than 75,000 schools, to analyze trends in teachers’ use of grade-level assignments on the platform.

What we found was troubling:

  • Students are spending even more time on below grade-level work than they were before the pandemic.
  • Students were just as successful on grade-level work as they were on below grade-level work.
  • Students in schools serving more students experiencing poverty were assigned the most below grade-level work.
  • In schools serving more students in poverty, students got less access to grade-level work even when they’d already shown they can master it.

These findings suggest that inequities in access to grade-level work that existed before the pandemic have only deepened, and that most school systems are not yet implementing real learning acceleration strategies. But they also offer a clear path forward, providing the latest evidence that all students can succeed on grade-level work when given the chance—and that learning acceleration should be a centerpiece of academic recovery efforts in the wake of COVID-19.

To learn more, download the report.

To learn more about implementing a learning acceleration strategy in your school system, download our Learning Acceleration for All guide.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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