GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new study out Tuesday shows reading scores for Michigan fourth graders are plummeting.

Education Trust-Midwest ranked Michigan 43rd in the country for fourth grade reading, down from 32nd in 2019. The organization called fourth grade reading “an important predictor of future academic success.”

The state is also in the bottom five for Black students and among the worst for low-income kids in fourth grade reading, according to the study.

Some students in districts like Lansing Public Schools and Saginaw Public Schools lost an entire year or more of math and reading, the organization said.

Education Trust warns things won’t get better by 2030 unless dramatic changes are made to fix what it calls a “growing education crisis.”

Other research centers, like Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, are finding similar results.

“We do see it nationally and in a lot of states … scores decreasing for that fourth grade reading test over that time,” said Tara Kilbride, the assistant research director at EPIC. “But the decrease in Michigan was at a much steeper rate. It was a steeper decline, which is certainly concerning.”

“It’s certainly unprecedented within my experience and within Michigan’s education data,” Kilbride added.

Kilbride said her research center also found non-white and lower-income students struggling the most.

“Students who are Black or Latino students who are economically disadvantaged … these are the groups where we consistently see larger impacts,” Kilbride said.

Kilbride stressed that test scores are not falling as rapidly as during the 2020-21 school year. But scores have not returned to expected or pre-pandemic levels.

“They haven’t continued to fall as much as they were before,” she explained. “So in the places where they’re still falling, they’re falling at a slower rate. But they’re not back to where we would have expected them to be.”

Both groups said it’s urgent to turn things around because many students are already behind where they should be.

“They’re starting behind where they should be,” Kilbride said. “If you’re a half year behind and you make a full year of growth, you’re still a half year behind at the end of that.”

“The longer the students are behind or the longer they’re struggling, the more those struggles can build upon each other, the further behind they can fall,” she added.

To help students catch up, both groups want to prioritize fixing a widespread teacher shortage.

“The focus on recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers is going to be critical to implement the interventions students need right now,” she said.

Education Trust-Midwest also recommended spending federal COVID-19 money for learning recovery.

“These dollars, if invested wisely, have the potential, to support the rapid acceleration of student learning for all students,” the report said. “Districts must act urgently to use these dollars to support learning recovery.”

The organization also recommended investing in intensive tutoring.

“Targeted intensive tutoring, otherwise known as highdosage tutoring, is an evidence-based practice that can help students catch up and reach high standards,” the report said. “Highdosage tutoring involves one tutor meeting regularly with students in groups of one or two for an extended period. In these sessions, tutors use skill-building curricula aligned with the school’s core curricula and targeted to the students’ needs.”

Additionally, Education Trust-Midwest pushed to extend learning time in the classroom.

“Extended learning time can take place in programs after school, in-school, and during the summer, but such programs are only successful if the extra time is spent in ways that maximize teaching and learning and in conjunction with effectively used time during the regular school day,” the organization said.

Kilbride said on a broader scale it’s important to focus on equity, targeting school districts and students who need help the most.

“Some students have been deeply struggling and not really showing evidence of learning at all over these couple of years,” Kilbride said. “They’ve just had a really interrupted learning experience. I think it will be important to focus on those groups that have been impacted the most.”

Kilbride also emphasized that even with students back in the classroom now, returning to the status quo isn’t enough to make up for missed in-person learning.

“We see recovery starting to happen or at least stabilization starting to happen, but it’s going to be a long road,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of resources.”