U.S. students have experienced historic learning setbacks with math and reading scores falling to their lowest levels in years, national exam results released on Monday showed, the latest sign of the damage the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought on schoolchildren.
Math scores saw their largest drop on record, a trend consistent across most U.S. states and almost all demographic groups, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” which tested hundreds of fourth- and eighth-graders nationwide.
In reading, scores declined for most jurisdictions, though the decreases were not as dramatic as those in math. Eighth-graders’ math proficiency scores dropped by seven percentage points compared with 2019, results showed. In reading, proficiency fell by two points.
The test is considered to be the first comprehensive, nationwide account of student performance since the onset of the pandemic. Previous studies documented similar dips in reading and math after districts shut down schools and moved instruction online.
NAEP surveyed those tested on their experience with remote learning. Among students who learned online during the 2020-2021 school year, high performers had more frequent access to a computer, a quiet place to work and extra assistance from their teachers, NAEP said.
Higher-performing eighth-graders reported more participation in real-time video lessons with their teachers than their lower-performing peers, NAEP added.
Biden’s education secretary, Miguel Cardona, described the test results as “appalling” but said they were a call for action.
“We must treat the task of catching our children up in reading and math with the urgency this moment demands,” Cardona said in a statement.
Test score decreases were most acute among U.S. minority groups, and performance gaps between white students and their Black and Hispanic peers have widened since the exam was last proctored in 2019, the results showed.
Among fourth graders, white students saw a three-point decrease in math, while Black and Hispanic students each saw decreases of seven points, the results showed. Education researchers regard 10 points on NAEP’s scale as roughly equivalent to a year of learning.