As educators, community members and parentswork to help kids catch up from pandemic-related learning lossthrough accelerated learningandhigh dosage tutoring, national testscorespublishedMonday prove aloss already felt in America's schools.
Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progressshowdramatic and sobering declines inmath and reading scores for the nation'sfourthand eighthgraders, laying barethe wayspandemic-related disruptions damagedAmerican students' ability to learn.
Although federal officialswho administertests also known as The Nation's Report Cardtypicallycaution against directly tying anything to students' performance on tests,this time around, National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner Peggy Carr didn't hesitate to attribute historic,"troubling"declines to student achievement during the COVID-19pandemic.
Math scores for grades four and eight on the nationally representative testsshowed the largest declines since NAEPtestingbegan in 1990. Reading scoresdeclinedinboth grades, too, since the onset of thepandemic.
In 2022, average reading scores in fourth and eighth grades decreased by three points from2019, and average math scores in fourth and eighthgrades decreased by fiveand eightpoints respectively,thetest results show. The test, which involved446,700 studentsat10,970 schools, across all states at the beginning of the calendar year, is scored on a scale of 0 to500.
The 2022 results also showstudents thelowest-performing students performed even worse. And of particularconcern,more students scored atwhat are considered"below basic"levels.
NAEP scores by state
USA TODAY analyzed the scores state by state. There are glimmers of hope:Some states heldsteady in reading, and a few improved slightly.Fourth grade reading scores increased by two points in Alabama and Louisiana, and eighth grade scores increased by twopoints inDepartment of Defense schools. The most dismal declines occurred in math, and nostate or jurisdictionwasleft untouched.Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, New Mexicoand others saw double-digit score declines in either fourth or eighth grade reading, or both.
The pandemic wasn't easy on kids, their families, teachers or school leaders.The in-person rhythm of nearlyeveryschoolin the countrywasupended, with students shifting, sometimes clumsily,to learning on devices, if they had them, at home in March 2020 and beyond. As the rest of the school year went and the next onecame,school closurespersisted. Remote learning looked differentnearly everywhere, Carr said.
For all the agitation over reopening schools, Carr said students' scores don't directly reflect how long schools were closed to in-person classes during the pandemic. When schools did reopen,many students and teachers missed classes anyway in part because of COVID outbreaks.
It all added up to nationwide setbacks in learning andpotential academic declines across the U.S. that may persistfor years to come.
"What we need to do as researchers, aseducators, as analystsis now take a second deeper dive to understand exactly what role it did play, along with all the other factors that were influencing students' lives like mental health andlike disruptions in behaviors," Carr said, "to help students' chances of recovery."
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Across the board, in all states, concerns remain for themost disadvantaged students – includingkids with disabilities and English-language learners. The percentage of thosekids, among others, who performed at or above theNAEP level considered proficient was smaller compared with 2019, the report shows.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said there must be anationwide effortto recoverand move studentsforward. And he's calling on school leaders to leverage the funding and resourcesthe Biden administration made availablethrough theAmerican Rescue Plan to address student learning loss.
“Let me be very clear: These results are not acceptable,” Cardona said. “We need to continue to approach the task of catching all of our students up with the urgency that this issue warrants. We must redouble our efforts to accelerate student recovery."
How did fourthgraders do?
Fourth grade reading scores declined in30 states and jurisdictions, while fourth-grademathperformancedeclined everywhere. The national average declined by fivepoints in math and three points in reading since the onset of the pandemic.
Some statesfared better than others. For fourth grade math, Delaware (-14), the District of Columbia (-12) and Virginia (-11)hadthe highest scores declines followed by Maryland, New Mexico and New York (-10 for each.) On the flip side, Alabama andIllinois' scores remained stagnant, and Iowa, Wisconsin and fourth grade math scores atDepartment of Defense schoolsdropped by one point, the data shows.
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Drops in fourth grade reading scores weren't as dramatic as math overall, buttook a major hit in some places. Virginia (-10), Delaware (-9) had the largestscore declines followed by the District of Colombia, Idaho, Maine, Oklahoma and West Virginia (-8 each.) At the opposite end of the spectrum, Alabama and Louisianaimproved in overall average sores by two points, Hawaiiimprovedin overall average scores by one point, and Arizona, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina and Department of Defense schoolscores remained stagnant.
On average, fourth grade reading scores were the lowest since2005,the resultsshow. One quarteroffourth graders, on average, performed below "basic" in reading,a national increase of 3percentage points from2019,the data shows. The NAEP"basic" scoring category is describedas"partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at a given grade," but does not have or definean achievement level description for below "basic."
How were eighthgrade scores?
Eighth-grade reading scores declinedin 33states and jurisdictions, andeighth-grade math performance declined nearly everywhere. More than a third ofeighth grade kids performed below basic on the math assessment, a national increase of 7 percentage points from 2019, the data shows. The national average test scoresdeclinedby eight points in math and threepoints in reading since the onset of the pandemic.
"The eighth grade mathematics results are particularly concerning as that this is the place where a pivotal moment is taking place for students in their academic careers," Carr said.
Oklahoma (-13) Delaware and West Virginia (-12), Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey andPennsylvania (-11in each)saw the worst eighth grade math score declines. Scores for Department of Defense schoolsdropped by just one point in comparison, and Utah (-3), Alabama, Alaska and Idaho (-4 in each)saw the smallest test score declines.
Students typically can opt to take algebra or geometry courses in middle school to level up in math in high school, but nowthey're recovering from the lack ofmore basic skills. In turn, students are losing out on lessonsthat will prepare them eventually forcareers in math, science and technology.
"We need to be concerned about gettingthe students back on track so that they can be prepared for global competition in these areas, and national competition in these areas,"Carr said.
And for eighth grade reading, Maine (-8), Delaware, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon (-7in each) and Connecticut, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia (-6 in each)saw the largest score declines.Department of Defense schools (+2),Hawaii and Nevada (+1 ineach)improved reading scoresslightly, and Alaska, California, District of Columbia and New York held steady with identical average scores to 2019.
NAEP scores are here. What's next?
Federal, local and school leadersagree the results show will take extraordinary measures and a bountyof resourcesto meet the needs of America's school kids. And while some argue it's coming too late, there'snobetter time than now to solve and invest in every place experiencingdeclines in learning,Cardona said on Friday.
“In this moment, we must prioritize intentional collaboration and innovation. We can’t be satisfied with business as usual,"Cardona said."We must do better, and we can.”
In anemail to USA TODAY, the Education Department said it plansto hold sessions onreading and math with educators and education leadersto "reinforce the President's call to use ARP funds to combat learning loss" starting Wednesday and issue what it calls a learning acceleration guide to districts and states "re-enforcing the key strategies districts and states should use to address learning loss and academic recovery, with additional resources over the coming weeks."
More:COVID-19 pandemic aid more than $300 billion short for dealing with student learning loss, study shows
Education advocates who were long awaitingthe results demandedthefederal government make further investments in student learningandschool leaders toinvest resources that could help make up for the declines.
Theysaid thenation’s leaders should look at continued federal and state targeted investments that are"crucial for students." They mentioned supporting student well-being andusing learning practices to help students catch up at this critical time. And they suggested looking at data that shows what works, includingintensive tutoring, family engagement, equitable schools andhealthy relationships with teachers.
"Now is the time to activate these resources and supports," said Denise Forte, interim CEO ofEducation Trust.
Academic recovery can't solely be focused onwhat was considered "normal" in academic achievement before the onset of thepandemic, Carr said, noting that inequities persisted for the most disadvantaged students before it, too, and "laid bare an 'opportunitygap’ that has long existed."
"It also showed how every student was vulnerable to the pandemic’s disruptions," she said."We do not have a moment to waste."
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Contributing: Ramon Padilla
Contact Kayla Jimenez at email@example.com. Follow heron Twitter at @kaylajjimenez.