How far have math and reading scores dropped? It’s staggering

Results from the first Nation's Report Card are the first "nationally representative measure of the pandemic’s impact on learning."

Declines in math and reading scores for 9-year-olds are historic and, in some cases, unprecedented, according to the first Nation’s Report Card of the pandemic.

Nine-year-olds who took the NAEP Long-Term Trend test scored seven points lower in math and five points lower in reading compared to students in 2020. The results represent the first-ever decline in math and the largest drop in reading since the 1990s. The exams, administered between January and March 2022, are the first “nationally representative measure of the pandemic’s impact on learning,” according to the National Assessment Governing Board, which conducts NAEP assessments in conjunction with the National Center for Education Statistics.

About 60% of the students who took this NAEP test were in fourth grade and 39% were in third grade or below. “Fewer 9-year-olds now have the basic reading and math skills they need,” said former North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board. “This puts their futures—and our nation’s future—at great risk and should spur us all to action. We can’t keep blaming COVID. We need to accelerate their learning.”

Math and reading results vary by race and ethnicity

Math and reading scores fell in all five test percentiles, which are set to measure progress made by lower- (10th and 25th percentiles), average- (50th percentile), and higher- (75th and 90th percentiles) performing students. As troubling as the overall results are the widening gaps between higher- and lower-performing students.

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Lower-performing students’ performance—compared to pre-COVID tests—fell more sharply than the scores of their higher-performing classmates:

  • Scores for students at the 25th percentile tumbled 11 points in mathematics and eight points in reading
  • Scores for students at the 75th percentile fell five points in mathematics and three points in reading.
  • Declines were even greater for students in the 10th percentile.

Decreases also varied by race and ethnicity. In math, Black students’ scores dropped 13 points, significantly more than the 5-point decline among white 9-year-olds. Hispanic 9-years-olds lost eight points. In reading, the scores for Black, Hispanic, and white students all slipped by six points.

Scores did not change significantly for Asians, American Indian/Alaska Native, and multiracial students races in either subject. “While we see declines at all performance levels, the growing gap between students at the top and those at the bottom is an important but overlooked trend,” said Governing Board member Martin West, the academic dean and a professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Supporting the academic recovery of lower-performing students should be a top priority for educators and policymakers nationwide.”

Results from the more comprehensive main NAEP assessments for grades 4 and 8 will be released this fall.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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