All because of Corona?: The performance level of fourth graders drops significantly

More and more elementary school students are struggling with reading, writing and arithmetic.

All because of Corona?: The performance level of fourth graders drops significantly

More and more elementary school students are struggling with reading, writing and arithmetic. The Conference of Ministers of Education warns that a clear drop in performance can be seen in a ten-year comparison. Every third fourth grader cannot write correctly. But it's not just the school closures that are to blame.

Elementary school children in Germany are increasingly having math and German problems and their skills have fallen significantly in a ten-year comparison. This is shown by a study presented by the Conference of Ministers of Education (KMK), which representatively examines the status of fourth-graders every five years. According to the KMK, closed schools in the corona pandemic are partly responsible. Experts also see other reasons.

Between April and August 2021, around 27,000 fourth graders were tested at almost 1,500 schools throughout Germany - in the areas of reading, listening, spelling and mathematics. According to the study, compared to the last survey in 2016, the decline in skills in reading corresponded to around a third of a school year, and in spelling and mathematics to a quarter. Compared to 2011, the deficit is even around half a school year. Every third person cannot write correctly. The results have deteriorated everywhere.

It is particularly noticeable when it comes to spelling: Less than half of the fourth graders (44 percent) reached the "standard standard", i.e. what is expected on average from students of this age, and almost a third (30 percent) missed it the "minimum standard" - means: Almost every third elementary school student in the fourth grade makes so many spelling mistakes that he does not meet the defined minimum requirements. About one in five did not reach the minimum standards in reading, listening and math.

The KMK sees itself confirmed: "The school closures and teaching restrictions during the Corona period have set back the students in Germany considerably in their social development and in their learning success." KMK President Karin Prien pointed out that the tests were carried out directly after the long school lockdown last spring and summer. Hamburg's education senator Ties Rabe spoke of a slap in the face for those who had campaigned "so vigorously" for school closures.

The authors of the study from the Institute for Quality Development in Education (IQB) assume that the corona restrictions are “at least partly” responsible for the results. But you also write that the "unfavorable" developments cannot be clearly traced back to this, since there was already a negative trend between 2011 and 2016. In addition to Corona, changes in the composition of the student body, new school requirements and organizational changes in the schools are mentioned as possible causes.

The study not only confirms that success at school depends heavily on the parental home, but also comes to the conclusion that the connection between skills and the "socio-economic status" of the family has even increased "significantly" in all areas.

It is also pointed out that the "immigration-related heterogeneity" of the student body increased further between 2016 and 2021. The sharpest declines in skills are almost universally seen among foreign-born students. They were lower for non-immigrant students.

The President of the German Teachers' Association, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, said the study gave educational policy in Germany "miserable testimony". "If, as has been established, only half of the children achieve the standard standards in the two central primary school subjects German and Mathematics and a fifth even miss the minimum standards, one cannot avoid the statement that educational policy is implementing the goals formulated in the educational standards themselves in increasingly missed by a wide margin."

The results are also worrying because the foundations for further educational success are laid in elementary school. That's where the old adage comes to mind: "What Hans doesn't learn, Hans never learns" comes to mind. The scientific director of the IQB, Petra Stanat, said: "Almost 20 percent of children who cannot read well, that is a problem and it will also be difficult to catch up." It would then require great effort in the secondary schools.

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