Coronavirus Impact: Scholastic Adjusts Its Summer Reading Program

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

As much as 30 percent of typical annual reading gains may not be carried into schoolwork in the autumn, says an NWEA report, as the COVID-19 pandemic affects US education.

Summer reading programs this year are putting extra emphasis on families’ handling of their children’s educational needs. Image – iStockphoto: Gulcin Ragiboglu

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Magnitude of Summer Learning Loss’
In March, the US publisher Scholastic was among those listed by Copyright Clearance Center in its learning-at-home resources as one of the companies responding to the educational crisis triggered by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, this American company is again engaged in its annual Read-a-Palooza Summer Challenge program, continuing through September 4 with at least some of its materials accessible in both English and Spanish.

As before, the company’s program combines a mission of getting youngsters busy reading and charity in the form of a 100,000 print-book donation (content from Scholastic) in July, a partnership with United Way Worldwide. For those familiar with the summer program from the past, there are several changes this year reflective of the public health emergency.

For example, there’s no longer a naming of a “Best in State” school at the end of the program, and the “Top Public Library” has similarly been dispatched.

The key new feature is a “Home Base” app (Android and iOS), moderated around the clock and allowing children to create avatars as they engage in reading activities.

This year, rather than totting up their reading minutes, students are tracking “Reading Streaks,” one of the branding phrases Scholastic has trademarked, a streak being the number of consecutive days a student has checked in at the Summer Zone on Home Base—which suggests that Home Base, as a tool, will have a life beyond the summer program).

Every two consecutive days logged by a student releases one of the books in the expected 100,000-copy donation, and the readers collect bronze-, silver-, gold-, and diamond-level achievement acknowledgments along with “summer-specific accessories to dress up their avatars,” per the program’s promotional literature.

Potential Effects on Students of a Pandemic Summer

An NWEA paper indicates that ‘students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70 percent of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year.’ Image – iStockphoto: Fizkes

This is an off-year in Scholastic’s biennial Kids & Family Reading Report survey program, and so the company has turned to the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a nonprofit assessment research program based in Portland, Oregon. NWEA’s Megan Kuhfeld and Beth Tarasawa have written a paper on “what summer learning loss can tell us about the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement.”

Addressing the United States’ roughly 55.1 million students’ experience during the pathogen’s presence, Kuhfeld and Tarasawa concede that “it’s difficult to speculate on what missing months of school may mean for student achievement,” they also touch on “controversy about the magnitude of summer learning loss.”

Nevertheless, they see three trends as reliable:

  • Achievement typically slows or declines over the summer months
  • Declines tend to be steeper for math than for reading
  • The extent (proportionally) of loss increases in the upper grades

The bottom lines of what the NWEA paper brings to the discussion is that, “Preliminary COVID slide estimates suggest that students will return in fall 2020 with roughly 70 percent of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year.

“However, in mathematics, students are likely to show much smaller learning gains, returning with less than 50 percent of the learning gains and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would observe in normal conditions.”

And indicators in the American testing and tracking programs show that the summer is “no time to take your foot off the gas,” as the American epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci might put it, in terms of efforts to keep students on track.

Amy Harmon and Rich Rojas at The New York Times are writing in their coverage updated this morning (June 8), “None of the plans for how the nation might safely emerge from the coronavirus lockdown involved thousands of Americans standing shoulder to shoulder in the streets of major cities or coughing uncontrollably when the authorities used tear gas to disperse them. No one planned on protesters being herded into crowded prison buses or left in crowded cells.”

Image: NWEA

The ironic development in the battle with the pathogen—not just in the United States but also in other markets in which huge protests are taking place—is that at the very moment we may be witnessing a woefully overdue breakthrough in public understanding and condemnation of police abuse of people of color, even the most peaceful outpourings of citizens’ anger and demands for change could be exacerbating the risks of the virus’ impact.

“On Sunday,” Harmon and Rojas report, “infectious disease experts on Twitter debated how to supply a reliable estimate of the impact of the protests on virus transmission—or whether trying to do so may wrongly be seen as discouraging participation in the growing racial justice movement.”

At this writing, the 5:33 a.m. ET update (0933 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reports the United States to have 1,942,363 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 110,514 deaths in a population of 328 million. On the world scale, the virus now has surpassed the 7-million-case mark and has claimed at least 403,112 lives.

Scholastic’s Pam Allyn: The ‘Tool of All Tools’


Pam Allyn

Publishing Perspectives has had a chance to put some questions to Pam Allyn, Scholastic Education’s senior vice-president for innovation & development. Allyn is the founder of LitWorld, an international literacy organization with a presence in more than 60 countries. Its programs include World Read Aloud Day, which our readers will recall from our February coverage.

Allyn’s most recent co-authored book is Every Child a Super Reader (Scholastic, 2015 with Ernest Morrell), and her Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys (Scholastic) was released in 2011

We start our exchange with Allyn by asking about the corollary between anticipated shortfalls in achievement in math and reading this year.

Pam Allyn: What’s interesting about the mathematics skill loss projections from NWEA is how closely interconnected math is to literacy. I’ve seen firsthand how in many cases, kids excel in math computation but then then struggle when trying to solve word problems, which is all reading.

Literacy is embedded throughout instruction and is the foundational “tool of all tools” across all subject areas. Language allows us to understand concepts more deeply. Without it, children cannot thrive.

A student will read calculus problems differently than they’d read a history textbook. A strong reader can pivot between one type of reading style to the next. If we look at supporting students through the lens of literacy, we can help them make this pivot by building their phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension skills.

Scholastic is helping kids maintain and build these skills with access to high-quality books, engaging programs, and learning activities for all ages. One new program is Scholastic Extended Learning Powered by BellXcel for grades K to 8, a flexible five-week English Language Arts (ELA) and math program that integrates social-emotional learning, STEAM enrichment”—science, technology, engineering, and math—and physical wellness for students to work independently at home with remote support from teachers.

Publishing Perspectives: For our readers familiar with the typical Scholastic summer program,  can you give us a sense for the changes in place this year? 

PA: The Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza program has been reimagined this year to help increase book access, ensure engaging social experiences to keep kids reading, and provide opportunities for kids to make a positive difference.

Within the program, kids now have access to a new summer zone in the Scholastic Home Base, a free digital destination where they’re encouraged to explore resources, read select full ebooks, engage with fellow readers and favorite authors, and keep ‘Reading Streaks.’  Those streaks help to unlock a donation of 100,000 print books from Scholastic, distributed by United Way Worldwide, to kids with limited or no access to books.

As a parent myself, I love that the Scholastic Summer Read-a-Palooza program is completely kid-driven, so it doesn’t add any additional burdens to caregivers who are doing their best to keep kids engaged in learning at home right now.

PP: And how is Scholastic itself doing? Can you outline for us what some of the impact of the crisis on the company?

PA: Scholastic employees have shown great passion and ingenuity in how we’ve pivoted to support our customers while schools are closed.

Our materials are a lifeline to many families at home and teachers navigating remote instruction. This includes virtual book fairs, shipping book club orders directly to teachers at home so they can distribute them safely to their kids, and working with states and major districts to provide virtual instructional resources for teachers and book packs for families in need.

Scholastic Learn at Home, our free resource for homeschooling parents, has had 60 million page views since March. I think I speak for many of my Scholastic colleagues when I say how moving it’s been to be of service during a time of such urgent need.

‘Literacy is embedded throughout instruction and is the foundational “tool of all tools” across all subject areas,’ says Scholastic’s Pam Allyn. Image – iStockphoto: Piyaset

More from Publishing Perspectives on children’s books is here. More on Scholastic is here, more on the US market is here, and  more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter

Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.