There’s no denying that we are very much still in the midst of a pandemic, and that the repercussions of COVID-19 go beyond physical health. A new study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that fourth- and eighth-graders have had a significant drop in reading scores, and they have drastically fallen behind when it comes to math.
The assessment, the first since the onset of the pandemic, revealed that students today have experienced the largest decline in math scores since the assessment first started back in 1990. The “Nation’s Report Card” found that “the average fourth-grade mathematics score decreased by 5 points and was lower than all previous assessment years going back to 2005” and that “the average eighth-grade mathematics score decreased by 8 points compared to 2019 and was lower than all previous assessment years going back to 2003.”
“I want to be very clear: The results in today’s nation’s report card are appalling and unacceptable,” said Miguel Cardona, the Secretary of Education, told New York Times. “This is a moment of truth for education. How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery, but our nation’s standing in the world.”
“If this is not a wake-up call for us to double down our efforts and improve education, even before it was – before the pandemic, then I don’t know what will,” Cardona told CNN. Cardona also noted that widespread teacher shortages, which have only been exacerbated by the pandemic, is one of the primary factors contributing to this historic drop in test scores.
No state or urban district showed improvements in math, and eight-grade math scores plummeted in over 50 states and jurisdictions that participated in the assessment, which was administered between January and march of this year and included performance scores of 116,200 fourth-graders in nearly 6,000 schools and 111,000 eight-graders in nearly 5,200 schools. While scores dropped overall, the gap between white students and Black and Hispanic students math scores increased over the past three years.
No states showed improvements in reading, but the decline was less severe in this subject than math. Still, reading scores dropped in over half the states surveyed, with only 1 in 3 students meeting reading proficiency standards.
“What we’re seeing is (lower performing) students … dropping even faster and we’re also seeing students who were not showing declines – students at the top, meaning students at the higher performing levels – they were holding steady before the pandemic or even improving,” Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said. “Now all the students, regardless of their ability, are dropping. That is the point we need to be taking away from this report.”
While more research needs to be done to see how remote learning throughout the pandemic has affected students’ test scores, it is clear that something needs to be done to close these gaps.