To track national education levels, the US Department of Education administers an exam called the “National Assessment of Educational Progress”.1 It is viewed as one of the most reliable assessments of American students’ competency in core subjects like math, reading, science and history. The exam is typically given to fourth grade and eighth grade students every two years, but was most recently administered in 2022 due to interruptions from the pandemic. On October 24th, 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics released the first results since the start of remote learning. It included nearly 450,000 students from over 10,000 different school districts and revealed unprecedented declines in performance across almost all states and across all demographic groups.2
The NAEP reports the average results of students’ scores on a 0-500 point scale. Additionally, results are sometimes presented in comparison to an achievement level. Student achievement levels of NAEP Basic, NAEP Proficient, and NAEP Advanced describe students’ competency in a subject based on mastered skills.1 From 2019 to 2022, the national average for 8th grade math scores dropped by 8% and the 4th grade national average fell by 5%. Additionally, reading scores in both grades declined by 3%, meaning only one third of students were on track for their grade level.3 These results were the sharpest declines recorded in the test’s history.
Throughout the pandemic, the negative impact remote learning and school closures would have on children’s education was heavily debated. However, these performance declines spanned across states with various approaches to virtual learning and timing of reopening.4 Students’ scores don’t exactly reflect how long they were learning remotely, so it is critical to dig deeper and look at the nuanced factors actually at play. Behind the bleak numbers lies a concerning trend of exacerbated disparities between the top and bottom performers. Exam scores of students in the ninetieth percentile didn’t change notably from 2019 to 2022, but the scores of the bottom quartile decreased significantly.2 Thus, national performance declines in education performance were largely driven by average declines of the bottom 25th percentile.2
Considering the devastating and differential impact of the pandemic on access to internet, loss of caregivers, and food and housing insecurity, this does not come as a surprise. Throughout the pandemic the learning and living environment of our nation’s most vulnerable school children continued to be destabilized. The students already at the bottom had the most to lose and indeed, they lost the most ground and now face a huge hurdle to reach proficiency. There have been many proposals for academic recovery including small group tutoring to accelerate student learning. The 2021 American Rescue Plan allocated nearly 123 billion dollars to school districts to meet students’ educational needs.2 These flexible funds were the largest one-time federal investment in K-12 education. Districts have the flexibility to use the funds in numerous ways from hiring counselors to support mental health needs, upgrading academic resources and beyond. However, the question of how to exactly allocate these funds and recover the drastic learning loss is still heavily debated and the deadline to use the grant is 2024.5 Regardless of how districts ultimately make use of the funds, it is imperative that they target the factors contributing to the educational gap among students.
- The Nation's Report Card: NAEP. The Nation's Report Card | NAEP. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/
- Ploeg, L. V., & Reid, W. (2022, November 14). The Nation's 'Report Card' on Remote Learning. The Daily. episode, New York, New York; The New York Times Company.
- Mervosh, S., & Wu, A. (2022, October 24). Math Scores Fell in Nearly Every State, and Reading Dipped on National Exam. The New York Times. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/24/us/math-reading-scores-pandemic.html
- Jimenez, K. (2022, October 24). Reading and math test scores fell across US during the pandemic. how did your state fare? USA Today. Retrieved December 14, 2022.
- NAEP long-term trend assessment results: Reading and Mathematics. The Nation's Report Card. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/ltt/2022/