Study: Reading, math scores fell sharply during pandemic

In math, the average score for 9-year-old students fell by 7 percentage points between 2020 and 2022, according to the study. The average reading score fell 5 points.

WASHINGTON — Math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds have fallen dramatically in the first two years of the pandemic, according to a new federal study — offering an early glimpse of the sheer magnitude of the learning setbacks inflicted on the nation’s children.

Reading scores saw their largest decline in 30 years, while math scores saw their first decline in the history of the testing program behind the study, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

The declines hit all regions of the country and affected students of most races. But students of color experienced some of the steepest declines, widening the gap in racial performance.

Much of the country’s standardized testing did not take place in the early days of the pandemic, so the results released Thursday gave an early glimpse into the impact of pandemic learning disabilities. More comprehensive data is expected to be released later this year as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

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“These are some of the largest declines we’ve seen in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” said Daniel McGrath, NCES Deputy Commissioner. “Students in 2022 are performing at levels last seen two decades ago.”

The study reflects two years of upheaval in American education, when schools were closed for months due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Many students spent a year or more studying from home, and virus outbreaks among staff and students continued the disruption even after children returned to the classroom.

In math, the average score for 9-year-old students fell by 7 percentage points between 2020 and 2022, according to the study. The average reading score fell 5 points.

The upheaval of the pandemic has particularly affected colored students. Math scores fell 5 percentage points for white students, compared to 13 points for black students and 8 points for Hispanic students. The gap between black and white students has widened by 8 percentage points during the pandemic.

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The decreases were more consistent across reading: the score dropped 6 points for white, black, and Hispanic students.

For Asian American, Native American, and biracial or multiracial students, there was little change in reading or numeracy between 2020 and 2022, the study found.

Geographically, all regions saw declines in math, but the declines were slightly larger in the Northeast and Midwest than in the West and South. On reading, the results were similar, except that the West had no measurable difference compared to 2020.

Although that represents a sharp decline since 2020, average reading performance was 7 points higher than in 1971 and average math performance was 15 points higher than in 1978, the study found.

Overall, the results paint a “sobering picture” of schooling during the pandemic, said NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr.

Federal officials say this is the first nationally representative study to compare student performance before the pandemic and in 2022, when most students had returned to in-person learning. Testing was completed in early 2020, just before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and in early 2022. Study: Reading, math scores fell sharply during pandemic

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