Progress Report: Supporting Students with Reading Barriers During a Global Pandemic

By Julianna Wright, posted on

As we approach one year of teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Benetech and Bookshare teams remain steadfastly committed to enabling inclusive and equitable learning. We asked over 800 teachers who support 10,000+ students with reading barriers like dyslexia, blindness, and cerebral palsy about their experience supporting students during the pandemic. The respondents supported students in a mix of learning environments in roles such as special education teacher, general education teacher, and reading specialist. What’s worked, and what hasn’t?

Less than Half of All Surveyed Teachers Felt Their Students Were Able to Adequately Read and Learn

This year posed great challenges on multiple fronts, and ultimately, less than half of teachers felt that their students with reading barriers were able to adequately read and learn this school year. When asked what factors contributed to a student’s ability to read and learn, access to technology resources and access to internet at home ranked highest, with 79% and 77% of teachers citing those as top factors. Other factors included access to books in formats that students need (75%), support from parents or caregivers (69%), and support from teachers and school administration (67%).

Digital Divide in Meeting Individualized Learning Plans

Many students with reading barriers require additional accommodations and supports to learn and achieve in school. The American Institute of Research found that nearly three quarters of all school districts were finding it more difficult to provide appropriate accommodations for students, and that this was a greater challenge for high-poverty school districts.

Our findings indicate that by and large, teachers rose to the challenge, innovating new ways to provide that support and individualization. The majority of teachers that we surveyed (6 in 10) did report that they felt they were able to meet their students’ individualized learning plans, despite increased challenges. More so, we did not see any significant variation in meeting learning plans across schools serving low-income and high-income communities.

Access to technology, however, proved essential in meeting these individualized learning plans. 74% of teachers who believed that their students had sufficient access to technology and internet felt that they were adequately meeting their students learning plans, compared to the 28% who did not believe their students had the technology and connectivity that they needed.

Teachers Use a Variety of Sources to Get Books to Students

In addition to Bookshare, teachers used many different ebook sources to support students’ ability to read and learn. Many used publisher websites to get ebook content directly to students. Other popular options were Epic! Kids and Audible. Teachers who knew that their students had books in accessible formats expressed greater confidence in their students’ ability to read and learn (61% of teachers compared to 47%).

Read the Full Report: Supporting Students with Reading Barriers During a Global Pandemic

Download the full report to learn more about how teachers are supporting students with reading barriers during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Open Report

Do you support students who experience barriers to reading, such as dyslexia, blindness, or cerebral palsy? Get them books in easy-to-read formats through Bookshare. With over 950,000 titles, educators and students can find virtually any book for school, work, or the joy of reading. Membership is FREE for qualified U.S. students and schools through an award from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), US Department of Education. Visit to sign up today!