• Joanne Jacobs

Nation's Report Card shows 'appalling' fall in math, reading

Fourth- and eighth-graders' math and reading proficiency fell across the country after two years of disruption, reports the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation's Report Card. Scores are reported by state and for 26 large cities.


U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called the results "appalling," "heartbreaking and horrible."


Students who spent more time in remote instruction did worse, but not a lot worse, writes Martin R. West, who serves on the National Assessment Governing Board, which runs NAEP. "The patterns defy easy politicization."


"Other research using different data sources provides convincing evidence that students learned far less over the course of the pandemic when they weren’t in school buildings," he writes. But there are lots of factors at play.


Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) agrees. “We have massive comprehensive declines everywhere, where in some cases, they were in remote learning longer or shorter than others," she told reporters. "It’s just too complex to draw the straight line.”


Hechinger's Jill Barshay looked at surprises.

A few places, such as Los Angeles, where students continued to learn remotely at the start of the 2020-21 school year, showed remarkable gains between 2019 and 2022, bucking the national trend. Eighth graders in Los Angeles posted a whopping nine point jump in reading while nationally, scores fell by three points. In California as a whole, eighth grade reading scores were unchanged from 2019.

In New York City, fourth-grade math scores fell sharply, but fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade reading and math held steady.


Cleveland was a disaster.


Department of Defense schools did surprisingly well: Scores were "steady or improved in each subject and grade," Barshay notes. Catholic schools lose ground only in eighth-grade math. Many schools DoD schools "continued to teach remotely in the fall of 2020, but Catholic schools generally were quicker to resume in-person instruction."



Math scores have been falling for years, especially for lower achievers, notes Education Week. The pandemic "took poor performance and dropped it down even further,” said Cardona.


Fewer students -- 37 percent of 4th graders and 27 percent of 8th graders -- are proficient in math, NAEP reports. "By contrast, 38 percent of 8th graders and a quarter of 4th graders cannot meet NAEP’s lowest benchmark — the basic level." A majority of students from low-income families, "as well as Black, Hispanic, and Native American students in grade 8 performed below the basic level in 2022."

In 4th grade, fewer than 3 out of 5 students now can tell whether whole numbers are even or odd—down from 67 percent before the pandemic. Only 51 percent understand that subtraction is the inverse of addition, and just over 1 in 10 4th graders can identify numbers that can divide into another number without a remainder.
Among 8th graders, only 44 percent can solve a problem using division, down from half in 2019, and only 1 in 5 can use an interactive tool to plot a point on a number line.

“Eighth grade is that gateway to more advanced mathematical course-taking,” said Peggy Carr, NCES commissioner. These students are "missing important skills that will prepare them eventually for [science, technology, engineering, and math] careers."


The number of students who are below basic in reading also increased to 37 percent of fourth graders and 30 percent of eighth graders.


Fewer students are receiving frequent, intensive tutoring than in 2019, according to an NCES survey, said Cardona. However, some schools have added reading specialists.


"Learning loss recovery appears to have begun, according to other research," writes writes Matt Barnum on Chalkbeat. "But there’s still a long way to go in the typical classroom. One study found that students in elementary grades had recovered roughly one-fifth of what they had lost. In middle school, though, there was little evidence of recovery."

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