Math and reading scores crash hard on Nation’s Report Card

The historic drop may be the starkest evidence so far of the pandemic's adverse effect on learning.

A historic drop in math scores on the Nation’s Report Card delivers perhaps the starkest verdict yet on the pandemic’s “profound toll” on learning. The latest math results for 4th- and 8th-graders show the largest-ever decline recorded by the influential Nation’s Report Card assessments.

Reading scores for 4th- and 8th-graders have also plummeted since the last Nation’s Report Card assessments in 2019—falling to levels not recorded since 1992 and below all exams administered since the early 2000s, according to results released Monday. Approximately 224,400 4th-graders and 222,200 8th-graders in all 50 states and 26 urban districts took the tests between January and March of 2022.

“The results … underscore the importance of instruction and the role of schools in both students’ academic growth and their overall well-being,” said Commissioner Peggy G. Carr of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the tests also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. “It’s clear we all need to come together—policymakers and community leaders at every level—as partners in helping our educators, children, and families succeed.”

Math and reading scores declined in a majority of states between 2019 and 2022. The only increase in either subject, in either grade, was seen in 8th-grade reading in the U.S. Department of Defense’s school system on military bases and other installations.

Nation’s Report Card by the numbers

This year’s reading scores for both 4th- and 8th-graders fell by 3 points compared to 2019. In 4th grade, these results are lower than all previous assessments since 2005 and were similar to the scores recorded in 1992. In 8th grade, these scores are the lowest since 1998.

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Math scores in both grades showed the biggest decline since the initial NAEP assessments were given in 1990, with 8th-graders losing 8 points and 4th-graders dropping 5 points since 2019. The results for the older students are particularly concerning, said Daniel J. McGrath, the National Center for Education Statistics’ acting associate commissioner for assessment.

“Eighth grade is a pivotal moment in students’ mathematics education, as they develop key mathematics skills for further learning and potential careers in mathematics and science,” McGrath said. “If left unaddressed, this could alter the trajectories and life opportunities of a whole cohort of young people, potentially reducing their abilities to pursue rewarding and productive careers in mathematics, science, and technology.”

Accounting for COVID’s disruptions

The Nation’s Report Card also attempted to measure the impact of the pandemic on students’ learning experiences and opportunities. Students who performed at the highest levels on the test had the most consistent access to computers, laptops, or tablets during COVID. They were also much more likely than the lowest-performing students to have quiet places to work “at least some of the time” and a teacher to help with schoolwork once or twice a week, the Report Card found.

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Teachers’ confidence in delivering remote instruction also played a role in the Nation Report Card’s results. Only about half of the teachers involved in the testing said they felt confident they could close learning gaps. Digging a little deeper:

  • 4th grade: Only 11% of students had teachers who reported being “extremely confident” in addressing knowledge and skills gaps, while 35% of math teachers and 36% of reading teachers reported being “quite confident.”
  • 8th grade: 14% of students had teachers who reported being “extremely confident” in addressing knowledge and skills gaps, while 35% of math teachers and 36% of reading teachers in reading reported being “quite confident.”

Despite pandemic-era obstacles such as instability at home, decreased access to resources, teacher shortages, cyberbullying, and an uptick in school violence, the Report Card also uncovered “pockets of remarkable resilience,” particularly in the country’s urban districts, Carr said. “Academic recovery cannot simply be about returning to what was ‘normal’ before the pandemic, as the pandemic laid bare an opportunity gap that has long existed. It also showed how every student was vulnerable to the pandemic’s disruptions. We do not have a moment to waste.”

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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