NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Nashville tutoring company is giving a new view of the learning loss experienced by Tennessee students during the pandemic. Educators at the Learning Lab said they have seen the impacts of the pandemic first hand with huge needs in Davidson and Williamson Counties.

“I think a significant number of students and families who are coming to us now is because of the pandemic – whether it’s a social-emotional reason and virtual learning just was not working and they missed some significant instruction or its those students who may not have struggled before but that might’ve been because it hadn’t been identified yet,” said Director Ryan Mathis.

He said most of the students they’re working with are between third and eighth grades who need help with math and reading, which he finds understandable given the importance of third grade reading proficiency.

MORE: TN General Assembly passes bill requiring schools to offer summer school programs for students falling behind.

“With the legislation I also think parents are worried because maybe parents don’t want their child held back,” said Mathis. “No matter where you land on your thoughts on that, it’s understanding the significance of third-grade level reading proficiency and how that impacts students on a trajectory for the rest of their academic career.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports only 34-percent of Tennessee students are proficient or advanced readers by fourth grade. Research showed students who do not achieve reading proficiency by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school, be incarcerated, or experience poverty as adults.

“As an elementary educator myself I saw the foundational skills gap that a lot of students were either missing because of a particular area or students who just need that additional support and also students who needed enrichment,” Mathis said, adding the Learning Lab’s even changed its approach to reading. “For example, if we had a student who has been identified as having a significant reading deficit and that falls into those five main areas of reading – fluency, vocabulary comprehension, phonics, and phonemic awareness – those skills have to be isolated. You need to do it scientifically-based research program that targets that deficit, provides strategies and supports that hopefully closes that gap.”

Mathis said parents were noticing learning habits in their children that they didn’t notice before watching them learn online from their own homes.

“There are parents who have told us that they’re noticing their students, because of the pandemic and because of virtual learning, they’re starting to learn the motivation of wanting to read, the understanding of assignments being presented. They are kind of getting the concern of ‘I don’t see it yet but I don’t want it to get to a point that it’s going to impact their learning,'” Mathis said. “Then we have on the other end parents who are starting to reach a point of complete frustration not knowing how to address reading deficits, how do I address these reading gaps so that my child can be successful.”

Mathis said some students were experiencing reading gaps that are not allowing them to access grade level education.

“What that means is the gap is getting so much further wide that no matter if a student enters in on grade level, because that deficit is not being addressed in isolation, students are essentially getting further and further behind,” Mathis explained. “Because of that, significant intervention is possibly needed whether that’s in the area of phonics of phonemic awareness, or fluency. We’re trying to help families to be more proactive rather than reactive. So how can we close that gap sooner rather than later so students can enter on grade level understanding text and being able to apply it to multiple content areas.”

Tennessee state leaders were working to get interventions for struggling students including after-school learning mini-camps and summer learning camps.

The Learning Lab is ramping up for a huge influx of students who come to them this summer for course and credit recovery.

“Parents are wanting them to really dig deep and think through their learning and really own it – justifying how they feel about a certain text or character. That being said, we’re offering that now but parents are requesting that for the summer, really making sure that no matter where they fall on the continuum, students are going to be prepared entering into the Fall,” said Mathis. “We’re seeing it on the full continuum of ‘how can I get my child ready for the fall semester so they can be on grade level and really still enjoy learning?’ But then we have on the opposite end where students are completely struggling and some who are failing specific courses because they are not able to understand the content whether it’s because of a reading deficit or some grade-level standards that they missed for whatever reasons.”

According to state leaders, data suggests that Tennessee third graders are facing an estimated 50-percent drop in reading proficiency and a projected 65-percent drop in math proficiency.

News 2 digs deeper into how schools are moving forward safely for the new academic year. See how other districts around Middle Tennessee are handling everything from classroom concerns to the future of sports in our special series. Click here to see more.