Students’ Reading and Math Scores Drop Significantly Since Pandemic

Last week, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) released the results of a special administration of the NAEP long-term trend (LTT) reading and math assessments conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2022. The assessments were administered to 9-year-olds, typically in fourth grade, from 410 schools. Of the 7,400 9-year-old participants, 70% learned remotely in 2021. The results of the national tests confirmed our worst fears – having schools closed during the pandemic had a detrimental impact on student learning. 

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

It’s important to note that the NCES has been administering the NAEP long-term trend assessments to 9, 13, and 17-year old students since the 1970’s. This recent report focuses solely on age 9 students to compare their performance from the last NAEP assessment administered before the pandemic in the winter of 2020 to the winter of 2022.

NAEP reports scores to reflect progress made by five percentiles, they are lower- (10th and 25th percentiles), middle- (50th percentile), and higher- (75th and 90th percentiles). Reading and math scores declined for all percentile levels in 2022 compared to 2020. However, students in the lower performing percentiles had a greater score decline than students in the higher percentiles.

Overall, there were no gains in reading or math for 9-year-olds. Scores declined or remained stagnant across the board compared to the winter 2020 NCES LTT assessment. Here’s a look at the staggering statistics.

Reading

  • Scores declined an average of 5 points. This is the largest decline in reading since 1990. 
  • Black, Hispanic and White students’ reading scores all dropped by 6 points.
  • Scores for students in the 90th percentile declined by 2 points, while student scores in the 10th percentile fell by 10 points.

Math

  • Scores declined an average of 7 points. The largest decline in math scores EVER.
  • There was a large gap between scores of Black, White and Hispanic students. White students’ scores dropped 5 points, while the scores for their Hispanic and African American counterparts declined 8 and 13 points, respectively. 
  • Average scores for students at the 90th percentile declined three points, whereas average scores for students at the 10th percentile declined 12 points.

While the declines at all levels are very concerning, the declines experienced at the lower percentile and among disadvantaged students is alarming. The achievement gap has been narrowing over the last few years, but the pandemic has opened it back up again. 

Harvard Economist, Tom Kane, sums up our current situation best.  

“Kane analogized classroom learning to an industrial process — the conveyor belt slowed in 2020 and 2021, but has resumed functioning since at roughly the same rate as before the pandemic. But to make up for lost time, he argued, it would need to be sped even further.

“What we learned…is that the conveyor belt is back on, but at about the same old speed,” Kane said. “Somehow, we’ve got to figure out how to help students learn even more per year in the next few years, or these losses will become permanent. And that will be a tragedy.”

This is really tough to hear! Are we doing enough to turn this around for our students? Only time will tell. 


Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.

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