‘Nation’s Report Card’: Two Decades of Growth Wiped Out by Two Years of Pandemic

Recently in The 74, Kevin Mahnken looked at long-term scores from NAEP that show unprecedented score declines for nine-year-olds in math and generational literacy loss.

Two decades of growth for American students in reading and math were wiped away by just two years of pandemic-disrupted learning, according to national test scores. 

Dismal releases from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — often referred to as the “nation’s report card” — have become a biannual tradition in recent years as academic progress first stalled, then eroded for both fourth and eighth graders. But the most recent publication, tracking long-term academic trends for nine-year-olds from the 1970s to the present, includes the first federal assessment of how learning was affected by COVID-19.

The picture it offers is bleak. In a special data collection combining scores from early 2020, just before schools began to close, with additional results from the winter of 2022, the report shows average long-term math performance falling for the first time ever; in reading, scores saw the biggest drop in 30 years. And in another familiar development, the declines were much larger for students at lower performance levels, widening already-huge learning disparities between the country’s high- and low-achievers. 

The results somewhat mirror last fall’s release of scores for 13-year-olds, which also revealed unprecedented learning reversals on the long-term exam. But that data was only collected through the fall of 2019; the latest evidence shows further harm sustained by younger students in the following years. 

Average math scores for nine-year-olds sank by a staggering seven points between 2020 and 2022, the only such decline since the long-term test was first administered in 1973. Average reading performance — generally thought to be less affected by schooling than math, and therefore theoretically shielded from pandemic shock — fell by five points. 

Inevitably, that means that fewer students hit the test’s benchmark performance levels than two years ago. For math, the percentage of nine-year-olds scoring at 250 or above (defined as “numerical operations and basic problem solving”) fell from 44 percent of test takers to 37 percent this year; those scoring 200 or higher (“beginning skills and understanding”) fell from 86 percent to 80 percent; even the vast majority scoring at the most basic threshold of 150 (“simple arithmetic facts”) shrank slightly, from 98 percent to 97 percent, across the two testing periods.

No demographic subgroup saw gains on the test, but disparities existed in the rates of decline. For instance, math achievement for white nine-year-olds dropped by five points, but for their Hispanic and African American counterparts, the damage was even greater (eight points and 13 points, respectively). As a result, the math achievement gap between whites and African Americans increased by a statistically significant amount. 

In reading, scores for African Americans, Hispanics, and whites were all six points lower, leaving relative gaps unchanged. Scores for Asian students only fell by one point. 

For more, see: https://www.the74million.org/article/nations-report-card-two-decades-of-growth-wiped-out-by-two-years-of-pandemic/