WASHINGTON– The COVID-19 pandemic spared no state or region as it caused historic learning setbacks for America’s children, undid decades of academic progress and widened racial disparities, according to the results of a national test providing the sharpest look yet at the magnitude of the crisis offers.
Across the country, math scores saw their biggest drop ever. Reading scores fell to 1992 levels. Nearly four out of ten eighth graders could not understand basic math concepts. Not a single state saw a significant improvement in its average test scores, with some simply flat-out at best.
Those are the findings of the National Assessment of Educational Progress — known as the Nation’s Report Card — which tested hundreds of thousands of fourth- and eighth-graders across the country this year. It was the first time the test had been conducted since 2019 and is believed to be the first nationally representative study of the impact of the pandemic on learning.
“It’s a serious wake-up call for all of us,” Peggy Carr, commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the Department of Education, said in an interview. “When we see a 1 or 2 point drop in NAEP, we say it has a significant impact on a student’s performance. In math we saw a drop of 8 points – a historic value for this score.”
Researchers typically think that a 10-point gain or drop is equivalent to about a year of learning.
No wonder kids lag behind. The pandemic has turned all facets of life upside down, leaving millions of people studying from home for months or more. Findings released Monday show the depth of those setbacks and the magnitude of the challenge schools face in helping students catch up.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said it was a sign schools need to redouble their efforts and use billions of dollars Congress has given schools to help students recover.
“Let me be very clear: these results are not acceptable,” Cardona said.
The NAEP test is usually performed every two years. It was taken between January and March by a sample of students in every state along with 26 of the country’s largest school districts. The results were already faltering before the pandemic, but the new results show declines on an unprecedented scale.
In both math and reading, the students scored worse than those tested in 2019. But while reading scores fell, math scores plummeted with the widest ranges in the history of the NAEP test, which began in 1969.
Math scores were worst among eighth graders, with 38% of scores rated as “below average” — a threshold that measures, for example, whether students can find the third angle of a triangle given the other two. That’s worse than 2019, when 31% of eighth graders scored below that level.
No part of the country was exempt. Test scores slipped in every region, and every state saw scores drop in at least one subject.
Test scores fell more than 10 points in several large counties. Cleveland recorded the largest single drop with a 16-point drop in fourth-grade reading and a 15-point drop in fourth-grade math. Baltimore and Shelby County in Tennessee also saw steep declines.
“This is further validation that the pandemic has hit us really hard,” said Eric Gordon, executive director of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. To help students recover, the school system beefed up summer school and added remedial classes.
“I’m not worried that they can’t or won’t recover,” Gordon said. “I worry that the country will not focus on catching up with children.”
The results show a reversal of progress in math scores, which had made great strides since the 1990s. In contrast, reading had changed little in recent decades, so that even the relatively small declines this year brought averages back to 1992 levels.
Most worrying, however, are the differences between the students.
Confirming what many had feared, racial inequalities appear to have widened during the pandemic. In fourth grade, black and Hispanic students saw larger declines than white students, widening gaps that had existed for decades.
Inequities were also reflected in a growing gap between higher and lower-performing students. In math and reading, scores fell the most among the lowest-performing students, leading to a widening gap between struggling students and the rest of their peers.
Polls conducted as part of this year’s test illustrate the gap.
As schools transitioned to distance learning, higher-achieving students were much more likely to have reliable access to quiet rooms, computers, and help from their teachers, the survey found.
The results make it clear that schools need to address the “long-standing and systemic flaws in our education system,” said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of schools in Los Angeles and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets guidelines for the test.
“Although the pandemic has been a blow to schools and communities, we cannot use it as an excuse,” he said. “We must remain committed to high standards and expectations and help every child thrive.”
Other recent studies have found that students who studied online for extended periods suffered greater setbacks. But the NAEP results show no clear correlation. Areas that quickly returned to the classroom still saw significant declines, and cities — which were more likely to remain remote longer — actually saw milder declines than suburbs, according to the results.
Los Angeles can claim one of the few bright spots in the results. In the nation’s second-largest school district, eighth grade reading scores rose 9 points, the only significant increase across all districts. For other districts, just staying balanced, as achieved by Dallas and Hillsborough County in Florida, was a feat.
Test critics warn against placing too much emphasis on exams like NAEP, but there’s no doubt that the skills it’s designed to measure are crucial. Studies have found that students who take longer to master reading are more likely to drop out and end up in the criminal justice system. And eighth grade is seen as a crucial time to develop skills for math, science, and technology careers.
For Carr, the findings raise new questions about what will happen to students who are lagging far behind in acquiring these skills.
“We want our students worldwide to be prepared for STEM careers, science and technology, and engineering,” she said. “It puts all of that at risk. We need to do a reset. This is a very serious problem and it will not go away on its own.”
AP education writer Bianca Vázquez Toness in Boston contributed to this report.
The Associated Press education team is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
https://6abc.com/school-test-scores-naep-sores-2022-covid-pandemic-remote-learning/12370523/ Test scores show historic COVID setbacks for kids across US