Student test scores have plummeted during the pandemic
“These results are sobering,” said Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the tests. “It is clear that covid-19 has shocked American education and stunted the academic growth of this age group.”
The fall – which she called “historic” – left no doubt about the toll of the pandemic. The average math score of 234 this year was comparable to the average score recorded in 1999, and the reading score of 215 was similar to the score in 2004. How long it will take to catch up is unclear and will not be probably not understood until further test results are analyzed.
Carr said the school losses were part of a complex picture of pandemic schooling. Other studies have shown an increase in classroom disruption, school violence, truancy, cyberbullying and teacher and staff vacancies, and schools also say more students seek mental health services. “There are a lot of factors that contextualize this data that we’re looking at,” she said.
Behavioral issues, increased absenteeism, data shows
Schools began to struggle in the spring of 2020 as school buildings were closed nationwide and learning faltered in the final months of the school year. Then, for at least part of the next school year, millions of students learned remotely or on hybrid schedules that mixed virtual and in-person classes. Last year, schools opened in-person classes, but many repeatedly scrambled to deal with covid surges, quarantines, mask mandates and staffing shortages. A number of educators called it the most difficult time in their careers.
The striking results are likely to spark more debate about the wisdom of virtual learning and the speed at which schools have reopened. There is a broad consensus among educators that most students do better when they are in a classroom with a teacher.
The new data shows that many of the most vulnerable students have the worst. Children who scored lowest have lost the most in reading and math this year – with scores that have plunged 10 to 12 points. By comparison, students who scored highest fell an average of two to three points.
“While we see declines at all levels of performance, the growing gap between students at the top and those at the bottom is an important but overlooked trend,” said policy-setting board member Martin West. of NAEP and academic dean at Harvard Graduate School of Education, in a statement. “These results show that this gap has widened further during the pandemic.”
“Supporting the return to school for low-achieving students should be a top priority for educators and policymakers nationwide,” West said.
Black students’ math scores fell 13 points, compared to eight points for Hispanic students and five points for white students. In reading, all three groups fell by six points. No statistically significant changes in scores were reported for Asian, Native American, or multiracial students.
Similarly, math scores dropped seven to eight points for economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and English language learners. Reading scores also fell, except for English language learners.
Geography made the difference, with math performance dropping eight points in the Northeast, nine points in the Midwest, seven points in the South and five points in the West. Suburban schools fare less well than schools located in urban or rural areas.
Amidst all the drops, flat scores caught the eye: no measurable drop in reading is found in the West, in the cities or in the countryside. “The fact that reading scores for city students have remained stable — considering the extreme crises cities are facing during the pandemic — is especially significant,” Carr said.
‘Nation’s Report Card’ shows failing test results, even before covid
Seventy percent of 9-year-olds tested this year recall learning remotely at some point during the pandemic. More than 80% of top performers said they always have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet. Among the lowest performing students, about 60% had consistent access.
NAEP tests are conducted at public and private schools across the country that are randomly sampled, according to NCES. The test for 9-year-olds consisted of three blocks of 15-minute questions, most of which were multiple-choice, with more time allocated to complete a quiz. Candidates are also randomly selected – 14,800 students in total, from 410 schools. Over 90% of schools were sampled in 2020 and 2022.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement that the NAEP results cast the experiences of the past two years in a “stark light” but should remind people to continue their efforts to accelerate student learning. , addressing the mental health needs of students and investing in educators. States should direct federal relief funds “even more efficiently and quickly” toward proven strategies, including “high-dose” tutoring and after-school and summer programs, Cardona said.
Federal officials said the results were part of a special collection of long-term trend data. A more comprehensive review of student success is planned for later this year. It will include national and state data, as well as selected school district data for fourth and eighth graders in math and reading.
The NAEP tests are a congressional-authorized project, sponsored by the Department of Education, and administered by its statistical arm, NCES.