Pandemic shutdowns leave wreckage in their wake as students’ reading and math scores plummet

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First-ever drop in math, biggest drop in reading in 30 years

student taking testFallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and pandemic policies continues to manifest across the nation.

The latest: Reading and math scores of 9-year-old students nationwide dropped between 2020 and 2022, according to results released today from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). A Wall Street Journal story on the scores cites experts who say it could take decades for the worst performers to rebound.

“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” said Acting NCES Associate Commissioner Daniel McGrath in a NCES press release. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.”

Overall, the average math score declined seven points since 2020. The math scores for lower-performing 9-year-old students (students at the 10th and 25th percentiles) fell 12 points and 11 points, respectively, over that period.

The average reading score for 9-year-olds declined five points between 2020 and 2022. The reading scores for lower-performing 9-year-old students (students at the 10th and 25th percentiles) declined 10 points and 8 points, respectively, over that period.

Math scores declined five points for white students, 13 points for black students and eight points for Hispanic students. The larger decline for black students compared to white students increased the score gap by eight points.

Reading scores declined six points for white, black, and Hispanic students. In reading, both black and white lower-performing students declined, while higher-performing students across all racial and ethnic groups showed no change in scores.

Geographically, math scores declined for students in every region of the country compared to 2020. Scores fell eight points in the Northeast, nine points in the Midwest, seven points in the South and five points in the West. Math scores declined nine points for schools located in suburbs, seven points for schools located in towns and cities and five points for rural schools.

In reading, scores fell seven points in the Northeast, seven points in the Midwest and six points in the South; the average score was not measurably different in the West when compared to 2020. Reading scores declined eight points for schools located in suburbs and nine points for schools located in towns; scores were not measurably different for city and rural schools. During this time, the score gap between city and suburban schools grew smaller by eight points.

Seventy percent of students recalled learning remotely at some point during the 2020–2021 school year.

“During the pandemic, NCES continued and enhanced other data collections on education challenges, and they paint a sobering picture,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “School shootings, violence, and classroom disruptions are up, as are teacher and staff vacancies, absenteeism, cyberbullying and students’ use of mental health services. This information provides some important context for the results we’re seeing from the long-term trend assessment.”

The new results are in the first report with a nationally representative sample of students comparing achievement from before the pandemic to now. NCES conducted a special data collection of the long-term trend assessments in early 2022 to measure changes in 9-year-olds’ achievement over the first two years of the disruptions to learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The prior reading and math assessments were administered in 2020, shortly before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. NCES is releasing these data on an accelerated schedule.

Later this year, NCES will report on math and reading student achievement at grades 4 and 8 for the nation, states, and for 26 urban school districts.

— By Mary Reardon for School Choice Wisconsin

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