Test scores: U.S. math and reading scores fall during pandemic

Test scores: U.S. math and reading scores fall during pandemic


Fourth- and eighth-graders fell behind in reading and had the biggest declines ever in math, according to a national education assessment that shows the devastating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on American children.

The alarming findings are based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in reading and math tests, often referred to as “National Report” and implements it National Center for Education Statisticsbranch of the Department of Education.

“If this is not a wake-up call for us to redouble our efforts and improve education, even before it was – before the pandemic, then I don’t know what will be,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona CNN’s Brianna Keilar said during an appearance on “The New Day” on Monday.

He called on schools to ensure they use funding from the 2021 Covid aid package to improve student outcomes.

Cardona suggested the widespread teacher shortage is “a symptom of decades of underinvestment” in schools and urged districts to pay teachers more competitively.

The first national three-year assessment of student achievement found the biggest drop in math scores among fourth- and eighth-graders since the initial pilot assessment in 1990, according to Center Commissioner Peggy Carr. The tests were carried out between January and March.

No state or major metropolitan area showed gains in math, the report said. Eighth-grade math scores fell in more than 50 states and jurisdictions that participated in the assessment. The last report was issued in 2019, before the start of the pandemic in the US, where schools were closed and teachers turned to online learning.

“Eighth grade is the gateway to more advanced math courses,” Carr told reporters before the report was released. “That’s what these students are missing. They lack these important skills that will ultimately prepare them for careers (science, technology, engineering and math).”

The average math score of 236 for fourth grade was 5 points lower than in 2019, and 8 points below 274 for eighth grade in 2019. The fourth-grade reading score of 217 dropped 3 points this year — the same drop as the eighth-grade score of 260 — compared to 2019.

Disheartening results they come more than a month after a national assessment released results showing math and reading scores for 9-year-olds – typically fourth graders – fell between 2020 and 2022 to a level not seen in decades.

The Nation’s Report Card offers the first detailed look at how the disruptions of the health crisis and virtual learning have affected fourth- and eighth-graders across the country.

The report shows that the pandemic affected all students, but had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable, who fared the worst.

Eighth-grade math test scores declined across most racial and ethnic groups, as well as for low-, middle-, and high-performing students. Fourth-grade math scores fell for all racial and ethnic groups except Native Hawaiians.

Gaps between white students and black and Hispanic students were wider in 2022 than three years earlier, with larger declines in math scores for black and Hispanic students further widening those gaps.

“What we’re seeing is that (low-performing) students … are declining even faster, and we’re also seeing students who haven’t been declining—students at the top, meaning students at higher levels—they’ve held steady before the pandemic or even improved, ” Carr said. “Now all students, regardless of their abilities, are declining. That is the point we have to take from this report.”

Mathematics exams showed the success of 116,200 fourth-graders in 5,780 schools and 111,000 eighth-graders in 5,190 schools. Reading tests were given to 108,200 fourth-graders in 5,780 schools and 111,300 eighth-graders in 5,190 schools.

The decline can only be partially attributed to schooling dynamics during the pandemic, when schools were closed and later converted to a mix of online and in-person classes in some cities.

“There is nothing in this data that tells us there is a measurable difference in performance between states and districts based solely on how long schools were closed,” Carr said.

“And let’s not forget that distance learning looks very different across the United States. Quality – all the factors that have been associated with the implementation of distance learning – is extremely complex.”

Declines in average fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading scores swept the country — in the Northeast, Midwest, South and West, the report said.

“We’re not surprised to see math scores take a bigger hit,” Carr said. “Mathematics is simply more sensitive to schooling. You really need good teachers to teach math. Reading, on the other hand, is something that parents and the community are more comfortable helping students with.”

Carr said more analysis is needed to understand the role the pandemic played in the decline, along with other factors such as teacher shortages and bullying.

“This must be a wake-up call for the country that we must make education a priority,” Beverly Perdueformer governor of North Carolina and chairman National Assessment Steering Committee which supervises the testing, according to the statement.

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